‘Tis the start of the season for the annual winter gathering of our feathered friends — terns, skimmers and gulls — on Marco Island’s beaches.
Large flocks of shorebirds have claimed their favorite spots on Marco beaches, from Sand Dollar Island to South Beach. The scene often resembles a picturesque “National Geographic morning,” accompanied by chirping, feeding, circling and landing, to the delight of beachgoers.
There are risks for these high-flying wonders. The birds have flown long distances to get here, encountering storms, predation, pollution and disease; and in Florida, the presence of the red tide toxin Karenia brevisin their food source.
Let’s not forget that these birds are here to rest, eat and gain weight for the next leg of their journey. We may be wise to hold off the urge to take a selfie and risk flushing the birds.
For beachgoers, things to avoid include throwing anything at the birds, running through a resting flock, walking too closely, feeding the birds, and casting your line if fishing while birds are around.
Around this time of the year you may encounter sick or injured birds. According to Adam DiNuovo of Audubon Florida, “It is not a normal sign if you see a tern or black skimmer sitting off alone.” Birds like to be in a large flock for protection. It is not normal behavior if a bird is wobbly, struggling to stand up, sitting alone, dragging a wing, shaking, or not moving. Every attempt should be made to capture and save the bird.
Save a Sick Bird: If you have your cell phone, please take a photo of the injured or sick bird, note its location and any nearby landmark, and send a “Save a Sick Bird” message to Adam DiNuovo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DiNuovo also suggests that you bring a small towel the next time you go to the beach and leave a cardboard box or a cloth grocery bag in your car in case you encounter a sick or injured bird. Or better yet, sling a cloth bag with small towel over your shoulder during your beach walk. It can transport a couple of injured birds at one time.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’ s Wildlife Clinic’s Critter Couriers are a group of local volunteers that will come out and collect the bird from you. They are open 365 days a year from 7:30 AM to 8:30 PM and can be reached at 239-262-2273 (CARE). The faster that we can collect an injured or sick bird and get it to the Wildlife Clinic, the more chance it has of survival.
Photos by Jean Hall