Beach-nesting seabird and shorebird populations are declining worldwide due to the loss of critical nesting habitat from coastal development and increased recreational use near nesting sites. At Rookery Bay Reserve, least terns (Threatened) and black skimmers (Species of Special Concern) nest in mixed colonies along our beaches. Frequent disturbance and flushing of birds off nests by beachgoers and their pets expose eggs and small chicks to intense summer heat and the threat of predators. These coastal species depend on a balance of viable nesting habitat and protection from disturbance to nest successfully.
Each year since 2006 over 3,000 least tern nests are recorded on Florida beaches (data from the Florida Shorebird database). In 2011, 600 least tern nests were recorded at one colony site within Rookery Bay Reserve, making it the largest nesting colony in Florida that year. Learn how reserve staff worked with FWC to designate this location as Second Chance Critical Wildlife Area.
Since 2000, Rookery Bay staff has annually monitored coastal nesting colonies within the Reserve. In 2015 the reserve’s partnership with Audubon Florida has afforded a full time Audubon staff member to help monitor and protect these birds with an office at Rookery Bay Reserve. This long-term data is used protect critical nesting habitat and at the beginning of each nesting season to determine the location of potential colony sites and guide the timing and placement of protective posting and educational signage.
Once nesting season begins, colony sites are visited weekly. The number of adult least terns, nests, chicks and fledges are recorded following established statewide monitoring protocol. This data is entered into the Florida Shorebird Database (FSD) and is available to researchers, managers, conservationists, and permit reviewers, allowing this valuable information to help conserve these protected species.