Thursday, January 20, 2022

Shorebird steward volunteers

Shorebird Steward Volunteers.

Shorebird Steward Volunteers.

Many of Florida’s beach-nesting shorebirds and sea birds have experienced decline as a result of habitat loss and excessive disturbance at nests and colonies. In response, locally, a volunteer program has been initiated via Audubon, Rookery Bay and the City of Marco Island, to help protect shorebirds and their vulnerable habitats, both in the increasing beach pressures and in the face of the ever enlarging BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Shorebird Stewards will be out on the Marco Island beach near posted nesting areas, offering educational information, opportunities to view birds and chicks with scopes, and monitoring for any oil impacts to the shore or sea life.

This program is outreach to the public with information about the presence of nesting birds and their habitat, steps to take to minimize impacts and education on the biology and conservation. It is also to train volunteers to monitor and prepare for any impact from the oil spill. It is vitally important to help assure maximum nesting success of all Gulf coast beach nesting to help compensate for likely impacts from the

Shorebird Steward Volunteers.

Shorebird Steward Volunteers.

oil spill. Many of the species nesting on our beaches forage and migrate through the pan handle and northern Florida beach areas.

In Collier County, there are four species of birds, two shorebirds and two seabird species, that use the beach for nesting between approximately April and September. The shorebirds, Snowy Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) and Wilson Plovers (Charadrius wilsonia), will be seen nesting secretively in the dune areas and foraging in the tidal area for invertebrates and crustaceans. These species tend to nest singularly as mated pairs, not in groups.

The seabirds, Least Tern (Sterna antillarum) and Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) species, will be seen nesting in large, sometimes mixed, groups, in the open sandy areas of the beach and fishing for small fish and minnows along the coast of Sand Dollar Island and in the Tigertail Lagoon. Least Terns will hover and plunge on a fish; while the Black Skimmers, fly, or skim, the water’s surface with their lower mandible lowered in the water. Both are fascinating to watch!

All four species, especially in the southern regions of the County, particularly on Marco Island and the barrier

Shorebird Steward Volunteers

Shorebird Steward Volunteers

islands surrounding, need the nesting areas of our beaches and sand bars. As listed protected species, the habitat, the nest, eggs, flightless young and birds are all protected the following rules: Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Florida Administrative Code Chapters 68A-27 and 39-19 and the City of Marco Island Ordinance Protected Species Ordinance 01-34 and Beach Ordinance 08-14. Under these rules, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in coordination with the City of Marco Island has the authority to post areas for nesting within the Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area on Sand Dollar and Tigertail Lagoon.

To date fifteen plus residents for the Shorebird Steward Volunteer program from all over Collier County, Goodland, Isles of Capri, Naples and Marco Island, have been trained and will be on the beach for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Lindsay Addison, Florida Sea Grant TEAM Ocean Coordinator at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve; Brad Cornell, Southwest Florida Policy Association for Collier Audubon and Audubon of Florida; and Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist for the City of Marco Island, met with the volunteers last weekend to train and gear

First turtle nest 2010.

First turtle nest 2010.

up for the program. Regular shifts of three hours, particularly on weekends, will be scheduled and for the very busy Fourth of July weekend. If you are out on the beach, please approach one of the enthusiastic volunteers. The information may give a new dimension to the beautiful Marco Island beach.

To improve protection and management of important nesting locations, here are a few ways you can help:

  • Minimize Nest Disturbance – Please respect the posted areas. Some birds will nest outside the posted areas, so extreme care should be taken when walking near the areas. Please remember, no dogs are allowed on Marco Island’s beaches. The parent birds are easily disturbed and can be frightened off their nests by dogs or people walking too close. Each time the parent birds are flushed or driven away, the eggs and chicks are vulnerable to intense summer heat and predators such as gulls, crows and raccoons.
  • Watch out for Chicks – Chicks are small, very mobile soon after hatching and sand colored. They are often wander outside the posted nesting area. Watch your step, especially in the tidal zone and
    Shorebird Steward Volunteers.

    Shorebird Steward Volunteers.

    wrack line of debris where chicks will feed and hide.
  • Keep the Beach Clean – Leave only your footprints – what you take to the beach should be removed when you leave. Not only is it unattractive, trash attracts predators and harms other sea life.
  • Report Your Observations Report observations at
  • Get Involved – To become a Shorebird Steward Volunteer, contact Collier County Audubon Society at 239-263-7822

Enforcement Issues:

  • Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement 1-888-404-FWCC (3922)
  • City of Marco Island Police: 239-389-5050 or 911

Oil-Related Information:

  • Florida Oil Spill Information Line: 1-888-337-3569
  • Report tar balls or other evidence of the coast to the Rapid Response Team: 1-866-557-1401
  • Report injured or oiled animals to the Wildlife Distress Hotline: 1-866-448-1401
  • To get more information about the oil spill and other volunteer opportunities, please refer to these websites:

Nancy Richie is the Environmental Specialist for the City of Marco Island and may be reached at 239-389-5003,

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