It is that time of the year—we hear them squawking, chirping and see them flying, soaring and diving along the shorelines of our beaches. Winter is an exciting time of the year for birds, and when you visit the beach you never know what you are going to see flying low over the water or scampering along the shore. We also have a variety of migratory birds visiting during the months of September, October and November.
From October through March, Brittany Piersma of the Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE) is seen at the beach with her scope looking through a flock of birds. At first glance, they all look like laughing gulls, but to Brittany’s trained eye she sees terns mixed in with the gulls and a few black skimmers with bands on them. Brittany writes down her findings; her survey results will contribute to a long-term data set for birds in Collier County.
Brittany is documenting the bird species and their numbers on Marco Island. This is part of the AWE’s winter seabird stewardship program. Part of that program is funded through Marco’s Beach and Coastal Resource Advisory Committee (BACR).
It is part of BARC’s education outreach to educate residents and visiting guests regarding bird observations and to share with the beach–going public, “bird protocol,” such as the negative impacts of beach trash and the flushing of resting birds.
A very disturbing trend on Marco’s beach is the flushing of resting flocks. Black skimmers mostly feed at night and during the day they are out on a beach sleeping and resting. They used a lot of energy when flushed. Black Skimmers are State threatened and flushing them is considered an illegal act.
There are 235 shorebird species recorded using Marco Island as a habitat. Of the 235 species, 213 of them have been recorded on Tigertail Beach. Most of these birds are migratory as there are very few resident birds that stay in Marco year-round.
Occasionally, Brittany will encounter short term feathered visitors on our beaches that have flown from long distance to get here for rest, food and to gain weight for the next leg of their journey.
There are risks for these high-flying wonders. On their way to our beaches, they have encountered storms, predation, pollution and disease; and in Florida, the possible presence of the red tide toxin Karenia Brevis in their food source.
Keeping our beaches safe for wildlife is a goal of the winter stewardship program. Litter can be deadly to birds and other wildlife—especially plastic items with holes where their tiny feet can get tangled. Fishermen should properly dispose of used fishing lines.
You might also encounter sick or injured birds. According to Adam DiNuovo, a shorebird biologist for 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.
If you find an injured or sick bird, please call von Arx Wildlife Hospital at 239-262-2273.