During the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reminds beachgoers statewide to be mindful of nesting birds. The eggs and chicks of nesting birds are delicate and susceptible to harm from disturbances that cause adults to fly off the nests.
Marco's environmental specialist Nancy Richie says Islanders should heed the same warning.
"Both least terns and black skimmers are currently nesting within the Critical Wildlife Area of Sand Dollar Island," Richie said.
“Just approaching a bird is enough to flush it away from its nest,” said Ricardo Zambrano, an FWC biologist. “When birds fly off their eggs, it exposes the chicks to predators.”
Injuries to unprotected eggs or chicks can happen quickly, either from predators or even from the intense heat of direct sunlight.
Sun worshipers can help protect the birds by moving parties, picnics or fireworks away from nesting areas.
Changing of the tides can have birds moving around the area as well.
"This week the tides have been quite high and there was a bit of wash over in the nesting area Wednesday and Thursday," Richie said.
"Last season, about this time of year, a stronger wash over occurred and the birds moved south to the main Marco beach, in front of the South Seas condos beach area."
This time of year, a variety of protected birds nest on Florida’s beaches, including terns, black skimmers, snowy plovers and Wilson’s plovers.
Least terns, black skimmers and snowy plovers are among the birds often reported nesting on Marco Island’s beaches.
FWC officials 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.
FWC and other agencies also posted signs in many other nesting areas throughout Florida’s beaches. These closed areas protect nesting birds from unnecessary disturbances and prevent humans from stepping on their nests. All of these species nest in the open and lay well-camouflaged eggs directly on the sand, making them nearly invisible to predators and to the untrained human eye.
“We need the public’s help in protecting these spectacular birds while enjoying the beach,” Zambrano said. “Beach-nesting birds are part of Florida’s unique natural heritage.”
Marco’s roped off areas should last until the end of August, when the birds make their exits, FWC biologists have reported.
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.