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Audubon Florida Says Be Careful With Beach Nesting Sites

Bob Barrett

If you’re heading to the beach this holiday weekend, remember you’re not just sharing the shoreline with friends, family and fish. Take the time to watch out for shore birds.

Julie Wraithmell is the Director of Wildlife Conservation for Audubon Florida. She wants to remind people that sitting by the sea is a lot different than sitting by the pool. In addition to the abundant sea life both on the sand and in the water, there are nesting birds that call the shore line their home. And it’s not just on the remote, secluded stretches of sand. "Pensacola Beach has nesting Least Terns and Black Skimmers and Gulf Islands National Seashore has those plus Snowy Plovers and American Oyster Catchers. Even the Navarre Causeway has Black Skimmers and Least Terns on the side of the causeway itself. West Florida is very lucky to still have habitat left  what habitat is left the birds are very dependent upon."

There are huge crowds expected on the beach this holiday weekend, and Wraithmell wants to be sure people remember to respect the homes these birds make on the shoreline. She says you should think of these beaches as a preschool. "Would you go around dropping cigarette butts at your child's preschool? No! What's your kid going to do? Put it in their mouth! So treat these places, these beaches as you would your home."

There have been several recent incidents around the state that have shown the damage that just a little human contact can do to birds’ nests, including one in the Eastern panhandle. Wraithmell said "Our staff were out in Apalachicola Bay surveying site there and came across an Oystercatcher  nest that was abandoned and they did fine the dead chick in the nest bowl. And there were human footprints all around the island that made it abundantly clear that some boaters had pulled up, not realizing that there was even a nest there. They ignored the signs and they stayed on the island so long that the parent (bird) was off the nest and the chick bird died due to exposure to the sun."

So what can people do to minimize their impact on nesting sites this weekend. Audubon Florida’s Julie Wraithmell says there are a few simple suggestions to remember:

·         Leave personal fireworks at home and attend an official display instead. Impromptu fireworks on Florida's beaches and waterways can have catastrophic effects for vulnerable chicks and eggs.

·         Respect posted areas, even if you don't see birds inside them. Birds, eggs, and nests are well-camouflaged with the beach environment. Disturbance by people can cause the abandonment of an entire colony.

·         Give posted nesting colony islands a wide berth. 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 them on a leash and away from the birds.

·         Do not bury or leave trash, picnic leftovers, charcoal or fish scraps on the beach, or feed any birds. These attract predators of chicks and eggs, such as fish crows, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and Laughing Gulls.

·         Beach-nesting birds sometimes nest outside of posted areas.  If you notice birds circling over your head making noise, you may be near a nesting colony.  Leave quietly, and enjoy the colony from a distance.

And do not leave litter on the beach. And yes, cigarette butts count as litter

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.