MARCO ISLAND — The early bird gets the ... beach.
Two shore bird species, least terns and black skimmers, have begun nesting on the main beach of Marco Island, between South Seas West and Sunset House North condominiums, reported city environmental specialist Nancy Richie, Tuesday.
In a cooperative effort, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the city have posted the approximate 7-acre nesting area for protection of these threatened species of shorebirds.
This is a temporary posting to protect the nesting birds, their nests, eggs and fledglings, possibly through the end of nesting season, Aug. 31.
This is the third season this colony has nested at this site. The least tern is considered a threatened species and is protected by FWC due to its declining population. It is also protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Black skimmers are considered a species of special concern and snowy plovers are considered threatened.
The two species, along with wilson and snowy plovers, primarily nest this time of year on the north end of Sand Dollar Island within the federally protected Critical Wildlife Area, Richie reported.
In recent years, early storms and higher tides have caused “wash over” of those areas of Sand Dollar and the birds have been moving south to this Marco Island beach area to nest, she wrote in a prepared release Tuesday afternoon.
The species look for open, sandy and slightly shelly areas to nest and it is becoming apparent this wide area of regularly raked beach is a preferred nesting habitat, Richie added.
“The shore bird nests are just small scratches in the sand, so they are very well camouflaged.”
Walking through nesting sites, beach-goers can unknowingly disturb a nest or even step on and crush eggs. This disturbance may also cause parent birds to abandon nests.
“Without parents, chicks and eggs are exposed to the blazing sun and predators,” Richie warned.
FWC officials and other agencies roped off several Island beach areas in early April, including four areas on Sand Dollar Island off Tigertail Beach and another off Caxambas pass to the south of the island.
Signs were also posted in many other nesting areas throughout Florida’s beaches as shorebird nesting season began May 1 and continues through Aug. 31.