The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asks beachgoers to watch out for and avoid disturbing beach-nesting shorebirds on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the state. Shorebirds build nests out of sand and shells on Florida beaches in spring and summer, hatching chicks that are difficult to see.
Shorebird nests, eggs and chicks are well camouflaged and can be easily missed and even stepped on unless people know to look out for them. The snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer, American oystercatcher and Wilson’s plover are several of Florida’s beach-nesting shorebird species that face conservation challenges and need people’s help to survive.
“People can still enjoy the beach while keeping shorebirds and their chicks safe,” said Nancy Douglass, who works on shorebird conservation at the FWC. “Following a few simple steps while at the beach can have a tremendous positive impact on shorebirds. People’s actions can directly affect the success of shorebird nesting and whether future generations will get to see these iconic birds along our coasts.”
Ways to protect beach-nesting shorebirds:
- Keep your distance, whether on the beach or paddling watercraft along the shore. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. A general rule is to stay at least 300 feet from a nest. Birds calling out loudly and dive-bombing are giving signals for you to back off.
- Never intentionally force birds to fly or run. They use up energy they need for nesting, and eggs and chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun’s heat or predators. Teach children not to chase shorebirds and kindly ask fellow beach-goers to do the same.
- Respect posted areas. Avoid posted nesting sites and use designated walkways when possible.
- It is best not to take pets to the beach, but if you do, keep them on a leash and avoid shorebird nesting areas.
- Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators such as raccoons and crows, which can prey on shorebird chicks. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.
- Spread the word. If you see people disturbing nesting birds, gently let them know how their actions may hurt the birds’ survival. If they continue to disturb nesting birds, report their activities to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com. You can also report nests that are not posted to Wildlife Alert.
Wildlife photographers also should follow the rules that protect shorebirds:
- Remain beyond the posted area, with no part of you or your camera equipment extending beyond the string or signs.
- Restrict photography to no more than 10 minutes. Too much time photographing near the nest may stress birds.
- Don’t “push” birds around the beach. Stay far enough away so the birds do not change their behavior in response to your presence. They need to feed and rest without disturbance.
For more information, go to MyFWC.com/Shorebirds and download the “Share the Beach with Beach-Nesting Birds” brochure. Read the FWC’s plan for four imperiled beach-nesting bird species, part of the broader Imperiled Species Management Plan: myfwc.com/media/2720106/Imperiled-Beach-Nesting-Birds-Species-Action-Plan-Final-Draft.pdf. Or go to the Florida Shorebird Alliance at www.flshorebirdalliance.org.