The decline and resurgence of Roseate Spoonbills parallels the conservation movement in Florida. Audubon Florida’s efforts to monitor spoonbills show how these birds are responding to changing environmental conditions. Since starting a banding study in 2003, Audubon researchers have banded about 3,000 Roseate Spoonbill chicks and have received more than 1,600 re-sighting reports, including one on July 24 in Sarasota.
Spoonbills nearly vanished from Florida’s landscape in the early 20th century due to the plume trade. After protections kept their colonies safe, the species gradually recovered and began establishing new nesting colonies in South Florida, in the Tampa Bay area, and along central Florida’s Atlantic coast. This year, there were Roseate Spoonbill nests reported from two Southwest Florida locations: three nests in Charlotte Harbor and one at Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.
According to Dr. Jerry Lorenz, Director of Research at Audubon’s Everglades Science Center, spoonbill nest sites are still shifting in response to habitat destruction and changing water levels. The birds are now considered an indicator species for Everglades Restoration.
“We began applying leg bands to chicks in nests in Florida Bay and Tampa Bay at the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary,” said Lorenz. In 2013, they also began banding birds that were hatching from nests at St. Augustine Alligator Farm. Banded bird sightings are received from around the state through Audubon’s online reporting portal (web1.audubon.org/spoonbill/).
According to Lorenz, there have been five banded birds re-sighted in Collier County. Two of these re-sights were birds banded in Florida Bay, two were from Tampa Bay, and one from the alligator farm. Lorenz usually doesn’t see that much diversity in a single locale.
The most recent re-sighting of a banded Roseate Spoonbill came from Sarasota on July 24. Lorenz says the bird was banded as a chick at Alafia Bank in Tampa Bay on May 17, 2008. He’s received five positive re-sightings of this same bird since 2014, all in Sarasota: at the Celery Fields, near the Fruitville Library three times, and off Coburn Street. All of those sightings were based on the bird’s red M6 band. Re-sighting data provides information needed to locate and protect critical feeding and nesting areas.
One of Audubon Florida’s greatest contributions to conserving the Everglades is the research and monitoring that provides information about the health of the ecosystem. These data and analyses are used to guide decision-makers in restoration and water management decisions to improve this important habitat for Floridians and Florida’s wildlife. Audubon protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow.
For more information about Audubon Florida, visit fl.audubon.org.