Thursday, October 28, 2021

Nesting Colonies Hit Hard at Sand Dollar Island

June marks a magical time on Sand Dollar Island — chick season.

Last year around this time there were approximately 400 least tern nests and 600 black skimmer nests at the tip of Sand Dollar Island. It had the largest nesting colony in the entire state.

This season the nesting colonies suffered a major setback due to the heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Alberto. According to Col Lauzau, Collier Shorebird Steward, the black skimmer colony washed over causing them to lose most of their nests. Rather than one large colony, the nesting colonies are forming smaller groups across Sand Dollar Island.

The crows were also relentless according to Adam DiNuovo, biologist for Audubon. There are still a few crows harassing the colony, but the black skimmers are aggressively chasing them away.

Good news! Crows and tropical storms did not deter the least terns and black skimmers from their nesting ritual. According to Col Lauzau, the least terns have re-nested three to four times on Sand Dollar Island. They now have a decent sized colony on Sand Dollar Island.

Chicks are here! According to Jean Hall, “It is a wonderful story of tough resilience.” From the handful of nests that were not washed out from Tropical Storm Alberto, a few chicks popped out during in the last couple of days. The rest of the black skimmers also have re-nested on the northern part of Sand Dollar Island.

At last count this week, Adam DiNuovo counted 260 least tern nests (520 birds) and 157 black skimmer nests, along with 8-10 chicks from the handful of nests that survived Tropical Storm Alberto. According to DiNuovo, he is expecting the number to increase by final count.

Photo by Jean Hall

If you want to see chicks, focus on observing the adults’ behavior. Look for adults bringing in fish. Watch for movement underneath wings and rumps. Chicks are very young – some less than a week old; fuzzy and well camouflaged with sand-colored down. They usually remain close to the nest for one to three days while parents incubate other eggs. At this age, they are very vulnerable to the hot sun.

In a couple of weeks, chicks will be everywhere on the northern part of Sand Dollar Island. This is the best part of stewarding. The July 4th weekend will be the last hurdle between these birds and a successful nesting season. Stewards need extra hands during the busy July 4th weekend to ensure that crowds, dogs and crows stay away from the colony.

Ways to Help Nesting Shorebirds:

  • Respect posted areas.
  • Keep the beach clean – trash attracts crows.
  • Leave your dog at home.
  • Join the July 4th Stewardship at Sand Dollar Island (email Brad Cornell at

Black Skimmer and Least Terns have recently been added to Florida’s Threatened status. Their numbers are decreasing due to coastal development, habitat loss, tropical storms and human disturbance.


Photos by Jean Hall

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