Coastal Conservation

Coastal Nesting Birds Made Hay During Quiet Early Hurricane Season, Fledging Chicks From Florida Beaches

With a late start to the tropical storm season, no hurricanes, and the full force of our staff and volunteer steward protection efforts, birds across our beaches successfully fledged chicks.

Northwest Florida Beaches and Barrier Islands

The Navarre Causeway fledged more than 50 Black Skimmer chicks this season. The offshore and remote habitats of the Eastern Panhandle proved to be especially successful for breeding Snowy Plovers: this vulnerable species fledged 11 birds from Dog Island an an additional four at Little St. George Island. Nesting sites monitored by Audubon Florida biologists also fledged seven American Oystercatcher chicks in the region. Additionally, Panhandle staff monitored 54 suitable and historically occupied nesting rooftops across a five-county region. Staff found 15 of these rooftops to have active nesting by Least Terns. 

Northeast Florida Beaches and Barrier Islands

Like many shorebird conservation seasons, 2022 proved to be a combination of successes and failures in Northeast Florida. Erosion impacted Least Tern nesting at Anastasia State Park and Fort Matanzas National Monument, but local birds found some success at less-frequented locations like the beach at Summer Haven. Inundation at Julia’s Island hampered the nesting of American Oystercatchers, Wilson’s Plovers, and Least Terns at the site, but the terns did hang on and fledge some young. Huguenot Memorial Park produced fewer Royal Terns than usual. A bright spot was the emergenc of new nesting islands in Nassau Sound — and despite tough conditions many young Gull-billed Terns and Black Skimmers fledged.

Southwest Florida Beaches and Barrier Islands

In Collier County, Wilson’s Plovers, Least Terns, and Black Skimmers nested and raised chicks. While all three species nested on Second Chance Critical Wildlife Area (CWA), only the Wilson’s Plovers and Black Skimmers successfully fledged chicks there. Across Collier beaches, Wilson’s Plovers fledged 16 chicks, Black Skimmers had 98 fledges, and Least Terns fledged between 120-130 chicks, including 19 at Big Marco Pass — a first since 2019.

In Lee County, Audubon staff worked with partners to steward and conserve nesting sea- and shorebirds at both the privately-owned Carlos Beach and the Little Estero Island CWA, where this season we reported Black Skimmers, Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers, and Snowy Plovers. Despite being plagued with some early season flooding, Least Terns fledged approximately 55 chicks, while Black Skimmers were expecting approximately 74 fledges at the end of August. We also recorded two Snowy Plover and 13 Wilson’s Plover chicks fledged.

Importantly, Audubon assisted with the creation of a new stewardship program at Cayo Costa State Park this year, which ended up being the site of Lee County’s only successful American Oystercatcher nest.

Tampa Bay Region Rooftops

Gravel rooftops are not an ideal habitat for nesting but serve as an alternative for birds crowded off beaches by recreational uses. Unfortunately, many gravel rooftops are reaching the end of their lifespans, and building owners are increasingly replacing them with newer materials compliant with updated building codes, but unsuitable for nesting. This season, 11 gravel rooftops were converted in Tampa Bay alone. We experienced a lull in reroofing projects due to supply chain issues the last two seasons but are now back to business as usual. Despite the roofs we lost, we were excited to learn that birds found seven other gravel roofs on which to nest. Overall, we had 35 active roofs in the Tampa Bay region — up four from last season.

In partnership with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rooftop biologists and willing property managers, we installed 3,615 feet of protective chick-fencing to prevent chicks from falling off their rooftop nest sites. We also installed 145 chick-shelters to provide shade and cover from avian predators. 

Audubon and partners are still confirming final tallies for this season but estimate that our rooftop fledglings included at least 18 Black Skimmers and five American Oystercatchers, with roughly 700 breeding adult Least Terns across all regional rooftops.

Tampa Bay Region Beaches and Barrier Islands

With more than 3,000 hours of stewardship from dedicated Audubon volunteers at seven nesting sites, we counted 630 fledged Black Skimmers, four fledged American Oystercatchers, and multiple fledged Wilson’s Plovers and Snowy Plovers. Staff and volunteers recorded thousands of fledging Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns, Caspian Terns, and Laughing Gulls. Importantly, we educated more than 17,600 people on the beach — thanks to these efforts, more nesting sites experienced minimal human-initiated disturbances and similar intrusions throughout the spring and summer.

Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries

The Florida Coastal Island Sanctuaries team surveyed more than 75 sites throughout Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida to census colonial-nesting waterbirds. Biologists and volunteers documented a successful breeding season, with more than 100 Roseate Spoonbills fledged at the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Critical Wildlife Area, leased from and managed in collaboration with The Mosaic Company and Port Tampa Bay, and at least 18 Reddish Egret chicks fledged across multiple sites. Additionally, staff worked with Port Tampa Bay and the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure a productive nesting season for beach-nesting birds including American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, and five species of terns at spoil islands in Hillsborough Bay.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Tours Audubon Natural Infrastructure Project

Living shorelines reduce erosion and protect habitat for both birds and people. Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton toured Audubon’s Alafia Banks living shoreline with Audubon Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuary Manager Mark Rachal and Board Chair Heidi McCree to see first-hand how natural infrastructure can successfully tackle both sea level rise and erosion.

Article first appeared as part of Audubon Florida's Fall Naturalist magazine.

How you can help, right now