Friday, January 28, 2022

Share the Shore with Beach-Nesting Birds



By Renee Wilson

B19-CBN-4-17-15-11   Southwest Florida has long been considered one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation. Beautiful weather, amazing beaches, and breathtaking wildlife attract thousands of visitors and new residents to our area each year.

From April through August, three species of beach-nesting birds also visit Marco area beaches for their nesting habitat. Nesting locations include the sand bar at Caxambas Pass, Sand Dollar Island, Tigertail Beach, and beaches within the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve such as Keewaydin Island, Kice Island, and Cape Romano shoals.

B19-CBN-4-17-15-13Least terns and black skimmers nest together in mixed colonies, while Wilson’s plovers nest nearby. These birds lay their eggs directly on shelly sand that is at a



high enough elevation to avoid over wash during storms. They also require beaches with sparse vegetation, which can provide just enough shade for chicks but is too small to harbor predators. The birds are also very sensitive to disturbances, including those from humans and our pets (especially dogs). Beaches that meet all of these requirements are increasingly difficult to find along Florida’s coast.

Over the past 15 years, Rookery Bay Reserve has seasonally posted and closed portions of beach-nesting bird habitat in effort to maximize nesting success. Staff and volunteers install brightly colored string, flagging, and signs to alert beach visitors of the presence of these birds, which, like their human “snowbird” counterparts, migrate thousands of miles each year from their southern wintering homes to breed along our shores.

Sharon Truluck has been volunteering at the Reserve



as a beach-nesting bird steward for two years. Having lived in southwest Florida since 1975, Truluck has always enjoyed seeing birds on the beach and jumped at the opportunity to learn more about them in her volunteer capacity.

“It is so interesting to see least terns and plovers doing their courtship on one visit, and then return a few weeks later and see eggs and young,” she said.

Each week, volunteers like Truluck walk around the posted areas to ensure they are secure and educate visitors about the birds.

“Seeing those eggs right on the sand, and so vulnerable to being stepped on, I feel compelled to talk to people about what is happening in there,” Truluck said. Engaging beach visitors, she explains, gets a much better result than signs alone. In fact, her outreach efforts have resulted



in the recruitment of new volunteers to the program.

This year, in partnership with Audubon Florida and Audubon of the Western Everglades, Rookery Bay Reserve has established a full-time position responsible for performing beach-nesting bird monitoring and protection work during the breeding season. The program manager will also enhance community awareness efforts and recruit and lead the team of volunteer beach stewards in support of local management efforts in the reserve and the rest of Collier County.B19-CBN-4-17-15-12

Volunteers are always appreciated, but everyone can help protect these shorebirds when they visit the beach by doing their part to share the shore with wildlife:

  • Watch where you walk – be careful not to step on eggs or chicks.
  • Respect posted areas and keep your distance from resting or nesting birds.
  • Observe


    regulations pertaining to dogs – they’re prohibited from visiting city beaches, and leash laws apply elsewhere including in the Reserve.
  • Be sure to dispose of your trash properly. Place it in trash cans or take it home with you if none are available.

If birds appeB19-CBN-4-17-15-15ar agitated, take flight, or swoop at you, they may be trying to tell you you’re too close to their nest, so either turn around or alter your route to avoid nesting areas.

To learn more about volunteering with the bird steward program email or call 239-530-5974. For more information about Rookery Bay Reserve or the bird steward program, visit


Renee Wilson is Communications Coordinator at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. She has been a Florida resident since 1986 has joined the staff at the reserve in 2000.

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