Wading Birds Give Hope to America’s Everglades

According to the annual South Florida Wading Bird Report, 2017 produced some of the highest nest counts in the Everglades in a decade. The success was characterized by hydro-patterns mimicking historic, pre-drainage conditions in some parts of the Everglades. The report, authored by the South Florida Water Management District with contributions from Audubon Florida, showed improvements in nesting for many of our key Everglades indicator species.

Compared to the 10-year average, nesting by Wood Storks was up 83 percent, Little Blue Herons up 62 percent, and White Ibis up 13 percent. Despite these successes, wading birds continue to struggle in areas cut off from adequate freshwater flows, like the Florida Bay and Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary historic nesting strongholds. Roseate Spoonbills in Florida Bay produced one of the lowest total nest numbers in 50 years. Although Wood Stork nesting initiated earlier at Corkscrew Sanctuary, which should increase productivity, nesting success was diminished by overdrainage of the watershed.

Results from 2017 indicate positive signs that birds maximize nesting when hydrologic conditions improve. However, the long-term survival and turnaround of all wading birds in the Everglades depend on how quickly freshwater flow is restored throughout the entire watershed. Preliminary results from the current 2018 nesting season bear this out. Robust water levels left by Hurricane Irma seem to be resulting in better nesting results for wading birds in much of South Florida.

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