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Sharing the Beach with Shorebirds

Photo by: Kristian Bell, Shuttershock

This is your seasonal reminder to walk softly this spring during shorebird nesting season. Pensacola Beach provides the perfect nesting habitat for many ground nesting, migratory shorebirds, many who have traveled a great distance to be here.

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During the spring and summer months you can find least terns, snowy plovers, Wilson’s plovers and black skimmers are all calling our beautiful white sand home.  Least terns are migrating from as far away as Central and South America to raise their young on our beaches?

The majority of the shorebirds that nest along Pensacola Beach are snowy plovers and least terns. Their tiny eggs and chicks, the size of cotton balls, are so camouflaged they are almost imperceptible to the human eye.

Research shows that only about one in every three eggs laid by the birds actually make it to the fledgling stage (a bird in its first coat of feathers that is capable of moving about on its own). While humans aren’t the only threat — snakes, raccoons, coyotes and even larger birds prey upon nesting shorebirds and their eggs — there is plenty we can do to help protect these chicks.

  1. Slow down while driving during nesting season March through August — watch for adult birds and their chicks.
  2. Never chase shorebirds that are on the beach. Forcing them to run or fly compels them to use valuable energy needed for nesting. Unattended eggs and chicks are vulnerable to the sun’s heat or to predators nearby, watching and waiting for a snack.
  3. Obey all posted shorebird/seabird signs and roped off areas. Use designated walkways when available so you don’t disturb the birds and their families.
  4. Keep dogs on the designated dog beaches and on a leash.
  5. Keep your distance from nesting birds. When birds are screaming and dive-bombing you, its a good sign you’re way too close. A general rule is to stay at least 100 yards away from a nest.
  6. Leave Only Your Footprints Behind. Please keep the beach clean (even if this means you are picking up after someone else). Beach litter endangers wildlife and food scraps are smelly and both attract predators that then will prey on shorebird chicks or eggs.

Let’s do out best to co-exist peacefully with our feathery friends and use the beach together, along with generations to come.