A changing climate is already forcing Roseate Spoonbills in Florida to adapt to survive. According to a new study by Heather Rafferty, in partnership with Audubon’s Everglades Science Center, sea level rise has inundated areas where spoonbills once foraged in Florida Bay. As a result, these iconic pink birds have expanded where they go to find food, abandoning some of their historic foraging grounds altogether.
Roseate Spoonbills are highly sensitive to changes in their watery habitat. When sea level rise makes foraging areas too deep, their prey is not concentrated enough for easy feeding. When large quantities of food are needed — like during nesting season when they feed voracious chicks — Roseate Spoonbills often leave areas affected by sea level rise for shallower/more suitable conditions elsewhere.
Using ArcGIS software, Rafferty geospatially analyzed spoonbill tracking data and water level data collected by staff at the Everglades Science Center and Everglades National Park during three intervals of spoonbill nesting activity in Florida Bay.
Rafferty’s findings indicate that 80-90% of the historic foraging area in Florida Bay may no longer support Roseate Spoonbill nesting.
New areas more suitable for foraging on mangrove islands in Central and Southern Florida Bay may be driving spoonbill movement into these locations. As Everglades restoration continues, Audubon staff will continue monitoring Roseate Spoonbills to see if improved hydrologic conditions increases foraging habitat.
Rafferty completed this study as part of graduate work for Unity College.
To learn more about Audubon's Everglades Science Center, click here.