Coastal Conservation

Coastal Birds Are Nesting on Tampa Bay Area Rooftops

Sea and shorebirds sometimes nest on gravel rooftops instead of beaches.

Spotted! Several species of coastal birds, including American Oystercatchers, Least Terns, and Black Skimmers, are preparing to lay eggs on rooftops in Florida’s coastal areas. These vulnerable species must avoid human disturbance, storms, and predators to successfully raise their chicks.

While wading birds nest in coastal trees, sea and shorebirds historically laid their eggs right on the sand. In recent decades, however, there are fewer quiet places at the beach where birds feel safe, and some resort to nesting on large, gravel rooftops to avoid disturbance. On the shoreline, they perceive people as a threat and will take flight whenever beachgoers or their dogs approach too closely. On rooftops, they will also flush if HVAC workers approach too closely. Repeated human disturbance often results in birds abandoning their nests or colony. If they can’t find a safe location, their nesting season fails.

During normal nesting seasons, in early March American Oystercatchers begin arriving on rooftop territories to scout out their nesting location. American Oystercatchers in Pinellas County usually choose rooftops that are on the Intracoastal Waterway or along the beach because they provide ample foraging opportunities when tides are low. In April, Least Terns and Black Skimmers follow suit. Staff begin breeding surveys and monitoring nests for all three species in March and will continue through August or when the chicks have left the roofs.

As the Rooftop Biologist for the Tampa Bay Region, Kara Cook spends her workdays during breeding season driving to 86 rooftop sites to monitor nesting activity across five counties. Most of the sites are surveyed from the ground since there are no vantage points to see the roof from above.

“Even though breeding season officially begins March 1, I have had (wonderful!) rooftop managers reach out to me to let me know they are already starting to see our earliest nesters, American Oystercatchers, scouting out rooftops that they have nested on previously,” said Cook.

Stay tuned for additional nesting updates as the season progresses!

Are you interested in monitoring rooftop nesting birds in your area? Consider joining our volunteer bird stewardship flock.

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