With nests full of eggs and new hatchlings arriving every day, enthusiastic volunteers attended the Collier County Shorebird training stewardship program at Tigertail Beach led by Adam DiNuovo, biologist with Audubon Florida.

Volunteers were there to see how they could be helpful, informing the public about the shorebirds and their nesting, eating and resting habits.

This is nesting season for least terns, black skimmers and Wilson’s plovers.

“Because this is one of the biggest nesting areas in the whole state for those species, we are out here to try to protect the nesting areas and share with the public on how they can help us,” said Brad Cornell of Audubon of the Western Everglades. “They can help by not leaving trash or feeding birds and keeping their distance from the closed areas.”

Training is a joint project with the state.

Authorities have deemed the area to the end of Sand Dollar and the vegetation area by Tigertail Beach as a critical wildlife area.

“When you see 800 pairs of black skimmers nesting in one place and 300 least terns next to them, Marco Island is like in National Geographic,” said Cornell.

Nesting birds raising their young feel safe on Marco Island, the Audubon rep said.

“But if someone shows up with a dog, it doesn’t take long for that dog to destroy the whole colony,” said Cornell. “Sometimes people with dogs mean no harm, but they don’t know, especially if they come onto the beach from a boat.”

Cleaner beach

Last year, gulls and crows destroyed an entire least tern colony due to the availability of trash.

“The message is that we really need the help of the public,” said Cornell.

Skimmers and terns eat small fish, the trainer said.

The “rack line” is the debris that washes onshore with the tides and draws small insects.

“That is what the plovers and their babies and a lot of critters eat,” Cornell told volunteers

Mary Hertzfeld, a volunteer for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida as well as the shorebird stewardship program, said she loves to participate.

“I fell in love with this area so much, I now do clam walks and eco-tour boat trips through Conservancy bay,” said Hertzfeld. “Everybody loves them. They tell me it is one of the best things they have done here.”


Southwest Florida has two of the most important and largest coastal bird nesting colonies in Florida – Marco Island and the south end of Fort Myers Beach, said DiNuovo.

In addition, the state’s newest Critical Wildlife Area is the 3-acre island off Cape Romano called “Second Chance.” It is closed to all forms of public access during the March through August nesting season for the protection of the vulnerable least terns, black skimmers and Wilson’s plovers.

In addition to these species, there are also good numbers of snowy plovers nesting on Fort Myers Beach, Cayo Costa and Sanibel/Captiva islands, DiNuovo said.

Watch out for beach birds

Sporting their newly distributed tee shirts with “Ask Me About The Birds” written on the back, shorebird volunteers headed to the beach to practice their message on how to talk to the public, sharing positive information about the shore birds on Marco.

1. Respect closed nesting areas by walking around

2. Watch for eggs and chicks, which are camouflaged

3. Don’t feed the gulls, it attracts then to nesting areas

4. No dogs on the beach

5. Don’t flush the shorebirds

6. If you fish, dispose of used line in bins

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