Everglades Science Center Team Conducts Baby Spoonbill Surveys

The winter season means Roseate Spoonbill and wading bird surveys to the Audubon Everglades Science team.

They are pink, they are fuzzy, and they look a lot like little dinosaurs: Seasonal Field Technician Casey King has spotted her first Roseate Spoonbill nest of the day.

Each winter, the Everglades Science Team (ESC) conducts surveys of Roseate Spoonbills and wading birds to gauge the health of South Florida populations. Boating up to a key in Florida Bay, ESC staff surveyed the island to both check for new nests and revisit known nests. After recording nest occupancy, they will return 10-12 days later for a re-check.

"I was lucky enough to watch the chick hatch," explains King, referencing the photo above. "He was hatching while we were surveying. That chick is only 20-30 minuntes old! The other chicks in the nest are about two days old."

Roseate Spoonbills are "canaries in the coal mine" for the Everglades ecosystem as a whole. If they do well, researchers know the Everglades is doing well. Unfortunately, sea level rise and fluctuating water levels have made successful nesting more difficult for this iconic bird. As a species, they are already moving north in search of better breeding territory. 

To see an infographic illustrating how water levels affect spoonbill populations, click here.

While watching the young spoonbills is rewarding, survey routes necessitate hard work in difficult environments. "The work can be physically demanding," King says, "It's a ton of boating, paddling, slogging, and climbing trees." But for King, the birds themselves drive her efforts. 

"Honestly, the work I do is beyond rewarding," she continues, "As a bird lover, since birth it seems, for me this job shows that 'if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.'" 

Roseate Spoonbill chicks. Photo: Casey King.
Roseate Spoonbill chicks. Photo: Casey King.
Audubon Florida works throughout the Sunshine State to protect the Everglades and the habitat the Roseate Spoonbills need to survive. During each legislative session, the policy team pounds the pavement to secure funding for restoration and conservation. Moreover, the cutting-edge research conducted every day by the ESC biologists is used as a critical benchmark of the success of these restoration initiatives. 
"I feel I am where I am supposed to be, giving these birds a more resilient future," King concludes. "I want my children to be able to see a Roseate Spoonbill colony in abundance years from now, and feel that I was part of that success."
To learn more about the Everglades Science Center, click here.

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