Audubon: Keep beaches, wildlife safe on holiday weekend
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Audubon are reminding Floridians to share the beaches and islands with rare and declining species of waterbirds that are currently nesting statewide.
"Memorial Day is always a fun time to be around or on the water, but we're not the only ones who think so," said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida's deputy executive director. "The end of May is a critical time for some of Florida's most iconic coastal birds and their fluffy chicks. Roseate spoonbills, black skimmers, snowy plovers, American oystercatchers, least terns and more are using Florida's beaches and islands right now to raise their young."
Unfortunately, when boaters or beachgoers approach nesting birds too closely, parents are flushed from their nests, leaving chicks and eggs vulnerable to predators, overheating in the summer sun, crushing under foot (in the case of beach nesters), or falling and drowning in water beneath the nest (in the case of tree nesters).
A single, ill-timed disturbance can destroy an entire colony.
"While the disturbance is seldom intentional, the result for the birds can be deadly,” said Brian Yablonski, chairman of the FWC. “Together we can ensure this holiday weekend is safe and enjoyable for people and birds alike."
Each year along Florida's coast, the FWC and local officials, along with Audubon volunteers, staff and partners, post many of the state's beach and island nesting sites to make sure people know where the birds are nesting and to help prevent disturbance.
Additionally, volunteer "bird stewards" from local Audubon chapters and other partners will help chaperone nesting bird colonies on many Florida beaches this weekend. These stewards help educate beachgoers about the breathtaking spectacle of these colonies while reminding pedestrians not to enter protected areas.
Volunteers also help monitor colonies to collect important citizen science data about the birds' nesting efforts through the Florida Shorebird Alliance (flshorebirdalliance.org).
In 1980, Florida had 10 million residents. Today, we have 20 million, with another 100 million tourists visiting annually. At the same time, populations of many coastal birds have plummeted.
The birds need your help: to learn about volunteer bird stewarding opportunities, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Memorial Day beach tips
Respect posted areas, even if you don't see birds inside them. Birds, eggs and nests are well-camouflaged with the beach environment, and disturbance by people can cause the abandonment of an entire colony.
Give colony islands a wide berth, and when fishing, be sure not to leave any equipment behind. Always dispose of fishing line and tackle appropriately.
Avoid disturbing groups of birds. If birds take flight or appear agitated, you are too close.
Refrain from walking dogs or allowing cats to roam freely on beaches during the nesting season. Even on a leash, dogs are perceived as predators by nesting birds, sometimes causing adults to flush at even greater distances than pedestrians alone.
Don't let pets off boats onto posted islands or beaches.
If you must walk your dog on beaches, always keep it on a leash and away from the birds.
Please do not feed gulls or herons at the beach, or bury or leave trash, picnic leftovers, charcoal or fish scraps on the beach. These scraps attract predators of chicks and eggs, such as fish crows, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and laughing gulls.
Leave the fireworks at home and attend an official display instead. Impromptu fireworks on Florida's beaches and waterways have catastrophic effects for vulnerable chicks and eggs.
Beach-nesting birds sometimes nest outside of posted areas. If you notice birds circling noisily over your head, you may be near a nesting colony. Leave quietly, and enjoy the colony from a distance.
Most people would never want to hurt baby birds. If you see people disturbing nesting birds, let them know how their actions may hurt the birds’ survival. If they continue to disturb nesting shorebirds or if you see people entering closed Critical Wildlife Areas, report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone, or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com.