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Headed to the Beach for July 4? Don’t Disturb the Birds

Birds | Audubon | Shorebirds

Coastal birds are especially vulnerable to harm this year because they’ve already been devastated by Tropical Storm Colin.

TAMPA BAY – Birds devastated by Tropical Storm Colin now need help to survive holiday weekend.

So the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Audubon Florida are asking beach goers to protect coastal nesting birds and wildlife by giving them space, and keeping personal fireworks off our beaches and waterways. Fireworks explosions, large and small, scare adults from nests, leaving them vulnerable to predation or crushing underfoot; chicks scatter and find themselves lost and in harm’s way.

Shorebirds, seabirds and wading birds nest on our coastal beaches and islands every year, but this year they are especially vulnerable. Many colonies were devastated by the storm surge of Tropical Storm Colin, drowning chicks and littering the beach with ruined eggs. Despite these losses, many of these birds are trying again. While nesting is normally starting to wind down by Independence Day, it is at a fever pitch this year, heading into one of the busiest and most dangerous weekends of the season.

Birds | AUdubon | Shorebirds
Black skimmers with chicks. Photo by Bonnie Shedd.

“Spending time on Florida’s coast is a great way to celebrate the July Fourth weekend, but we’re not the only ones who think so,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s deputy executive director. “This is also a critical time for pelicans and least terns, black skimmers and snowy plovers – many of which are still guarding flightless chicks or eggs. A single ill-placed fireworks explosion or other disturbance can cause birds to fly from a nest, leaving their tiny babies vulnerable to predation and exposure.”

In 1980, Florida had 10 million residents. Today, the state has 20 million, with another 100 million tourists visiting annually. At the same time, populations of many coastal birds have plummeted, environmentalists said .

“We are lucky to have an abundance of birdlife here in Florida, and we want people to enjoy these beautiful birds for generations to come,” said Brian Yablonski, FWC chairman.  “While you are enjoying your holiday celebrations this weekend, please be mindful of nesting shorebirds and other wildlife.”

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.

Independence Day Weekend 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. Disturbed birds may take flight, move away from their nests or appear agitated – all of which leave eggs or young susceptible to predators and heat. If birds demonstrate any of these behaviors, 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.
  • 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.
Birds | Audubon | Shorebirds
Wilson’s Plover with chick. Photo by Rod Wiley.

The birds need your help: to learn about volunteer bird stewarding opportunities, email flconservation@audubon.org for more information.

For information about the FWC, go to myfwc.com. For information about Audubon Florida, go to fl.audubon.org. For information about the Florida Shorebird Alliance, go to flshorebirdalliance.org.

Photo of least tern with begging chick courtesy of Doug Clark. Photo of black skimmers courtesy of Bonnie Shedd. Photo of Wilson’s Plover and chick courtesy of Rod Wiley.

Florida Fish and Wildlife | Audubon Florida | Shorebird Alliance | Birds | Beaches | July 4 | TB Reporter

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Headed to the Beach for July 4? Don't Disturb the Birds
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Headed to the Beach for July 4? Don't Disturb the Birds
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Coastal birds are especially vulnerable to harm this year because they've already been devastated by Tropical Storm Colin.
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TB Reporter
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