During spring and summer on Florida beaches, shorebirds build nests out of sand and shells and hatch chicks that can barely be seen. So well-camouflaged are the nests, eggs, and chicks of shorebirds like the snowy plover, that they can easily be stepped on or missed unless people know to watch out for them.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding beach visitors to be on the lookout and avoid disturbing bird nurseries on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida. Among the state's beach-nesting shorebirds facing conservation challenges are the snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer, American oystercatcher and Wilson's plover.
"By taking a few simple steps, people can enjoy the beach without disturbing beach-nesting shorebirds and their chicks, which increases the birds' chances of survival," said Nancy Douglass, who works on shorebird conservation at the FWC.
"While the populations of beach-nesting birds are declining, people's willingness to protect shorebirds and their chicks contributes to keeping them present on Florida beaches for generations to come," Douglass said.
People at the beach, including those paddling canoes, kayaks and boards along the shore, can help beach-nesting shorebirds by following basic guidelines:
Keep your distance. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. A general rule is to stay at least 300 feet from a nest. Birds calling out loudly and dive-bombing are giving signals you need to back off.
Never intentionally force birds to fly or run. They use up energy they need for nesting, and eggs and chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun's heat and to predators.
Respect posted areas. Avoid posted nesting sites and use designated walkways when possible. It's best not to take pets to the beach, but if you do, keep them on a leash.
Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators such as raccoons and crows. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.
Spread the word. If you see people disturbing nesting birds, gently let them know how their actions may hurt the birds' survival. If they continue to disturb nesting birds, report their activities to the FWC's Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com. You also can report nests that are not posted to Wildlife Alert.
Wildlife photographers also should follow the rules that protect beach-nesting shorebirds.
For more information, go to MyFWC.com/Shorebirds and download the "Share the Beach with Beach-Nesting Birds" brochure. Or go to the Florida Shorebird Alliance at flshorebirdalliance.org.