Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary, which is leased from and managed in collaboration with the Mosaic Company and Port Tampa Bay, is busy with bird activity as we continue through the summer breeding season. In addition to sea and shorebirds nesting along the sandy edges of the water, wading birds use the nearby trees to build nests and raise voracious young.
Jeff Liechty, Audubon Florida Coastal Biologist, recently surveyed the site, counting nearly 100 Roseate Spoonbills chicks representing the young of approximately 50-75 pairs of adult spoonbill.
“The spoonbill chicks were all lined up, quietly waiting for one of their parents to return with food. When a parent arrived back at the breeding colony their relaxed demeanor quickly changed to frenzied begging: vigorously bobbing their heads up and down and squealing with hunger," Liechty says.
"While the number of Roseate Spoonbill chicks represents an average success year for this area, we were surprised that they nested so late in the season,” explains Mark Rachal, Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuary Manager.
Roseate Spoonbills are wading birds with a long, flattened bill used for snapping up prey in shallow water. They are a critical indicator of climate change, as they cannot survive if water levels become too high to forage. Successful breeding of Roseate Spoonbills in the Tampa Bay Region is important to the long-term survival of this species in Florida, as sea level rise has hampered their nesting success in other areas of the Sunshine State, including Florida Bay.
The decline and resurgence of Roseate Spoonbills also parallels the conservation movement in Florida. These bright pink birds have mesmerized those who encounter them, and their beautiful plumes were especially sought-after during a time when women’s fashion included hats adorned with feathers and even entire birds. While populations have rebounded from the days of plume-hunting, they are considered Threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In addition to the spoonbills, Liechty also noted Reddish Egret chicks and young American Oystercatchers. Recent efforts to reduce erosion and restore native plant species at Alafia Bank have created more nesting habitat for these species, and we are thrilled to see fledglings ready to join the wading and shorebird populations.