Coastal Conservation

Nesting Birds Contended with Heat, Overwash, and Disturbance in 2023 Season

Coastal nesting birds in 2023 persevered despite record-breaking heat and busy beaches. Here, we summarize the results from Audubon-monitored-and-stewarded sites.

Coastal nesting birds in 2023 persevered despite record-breaking heat and busy beaches. Hurricane Idalia hit in late August, which, along with subsequent beach and island overwashes, effectively ended the nesting season for much of the state. Here, we summarize the results from Audubon-monitored-and-stewarded sites—these numbers do not represent species totals from across Florida.

Four species of shorebirds and seabirds that rely on Florida's shorelines as their habitat are listed as state-Threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC): American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Least Tern, and Snowy Plover. In addition, Piping Plover and Red Knot, which do not nest in Florida, are listed by FWC as federally Threatened.

Black Skimmers

In the Panhandle, this year belonged to the Black Skimmers, with more than 175 fledged across the region. Black Skimmers nested on Flag and Lanark Critical Wildlife Areas, Pensacola Beach, and Navarre Beach. In the absence of overwash from storm events or abnormally high tides, Flag Island had two rounds of skimmer nesting. The Pensacola colony settled on their site after being displaced from their first nest site at Gulf Islands National Seashore, while the Navarre Beach colony settled on a sandy empty lot site after nesting attempts at two other sites in the area.

Carlos Point in Lee County successfully fledged almost 400 Black Skimmers while nearby, in Collier County, the historically successful Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area colony completely failed. Though the colony began with approximately 900 Black Skimmer adults, they were not successful. A small colony at Second Chance Critical Wildlife Area resulted in 100 Black Skimmer nests.

In Northeast Florida, about two dozen Black Skimmers fledged from Nassau Sound. In Pinellas County, high tides and summer storms drenched beaches in overwash, wiping out many nests but a successful partnership between Audubon Florida, Sarasota County, and the FWC resulted in 320 Black Skimmer fledges.

Rooftop Nesters

Across 30 active rooftops in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, and Sarasota counties, staff recorded 20 Least Tern colonies, nine American Oystercatcher pairs, three Black Skimmer colonies, and six Killdeer pairs. With the FWC, Audubon and volunteers installed 2,750 feet of fencing to protect chicks from falling off the roof, as well as 198 chick shelters. 

American Oystercatchers

The Coastal team celebrated a triple-chick nest of American Oystercatchers this year at Fort De Soto County Park, a testament to the partnerships between the park staff, Audubon, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that kept the young birds safe during a busy beach season. At the Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries, six oystercatchers fledged.

Gulls and Terns

Statewide, Audubon biologists monitored nests of several tern species, including Caspian, Royal, Sandwich, Least, and Sooty. Two colonies accounted for the majority of Least Tern fledglings from Audubon-monitored sites: 104 from the colony at Lido Key (Sarasota) and 300 from Carlos Point in Lee County. Least Terns nesting on Panhandle area beaches fledged at least 54 young from multiple sites, with the majority fledging from Pensacola Beach. In Northeast Florida, the nesting areas around Nassau Sound are not monitored by Audubon staff but saw a small number of Gull-billed and Least Tern fledges. Huguenot Memorial Park, despite its struggles with erosion and large crowds, produced hundreds of Laughing Gull and Royal Tern chicks, with well over 50 Sandwich Tern chicks fledged this year, too. 


Wilson’s Plovers had a decent year in 2023 with 21 fledglings from Fort Myers Beach and 16 chicks fledged from 32 nests in Collier County. Only two Wilson’s Plover nests in Greater Tampa Bay monitored by Audubon successfully fledged in 2023. 33 chicks hatched from 13 nests in the Panhandle, and several Wilson’s Plover nests fledged chicks from Little Talbot Island in Northeast Florida. Lee County hosted the Audubon-monitored site with the most Snowy Plover fledglings: 17. Seven fledged from Panhandle beaches. 

Wading Birds

The Richard T. Paul Alafia Banks Sanctuary, leased from and managed in collaboration with The Mosaic Company and Port Tampa Bay as a bird sanctuary, provided homes to 6,000 bird pairs across fifteen species. White Ibis proved to be the most numerous, but four state-Threatened bird species fledged chicks as well, including Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Tricolored Heron, and Little Blue Heron. Reddish Egret and Wood Stork are also listed as federally Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 
Staff monitored a mixed Wood Stork and wading bird colony in Tampa this year, hosting the annual Colony Watch volunteer training on the site in coordination with the owners. Unfortunately, the colony experienced some bird die-offs of undetermined causes as well as disturbance from a neighbor removing trees during nesting season. In good news though, the manager of the site and our volunteers alerted Audubon to both of these issues, prompting further investigation that will ultimately help the birds. 

This article appeared in the 2023 Coastal Report

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