Shorebird populations are declining worldwide due to habitat loss, an increase in coastal development and recreational activities, severe weather events and the impacts of sea level rise.
Twice a year during spring and fall, thousands of shorebirds migrate along Florida beaches, travelling between high Arctic breeding grounds and southern wintering areas. For some, Florida is their final destination until the following spring and up to 7,000 shorebirds remain as winter visitors in Collier County to escape the cold northern winter and take advantage of warm sandy beaches, lagoons and mudflats that provide an abundant food supply and a safe place to rest.
Shorebirds use stored fat as energy and need to eat a lot and feed frequently to refuel themselves.
Repeated disturbance causes birds to waste valuable energy reserves. Weakened and vulnerable, migrating shorebirds with a reduced ability to feed may not survive to complete their journey.
In order to better manage coastal resources through informed decisions, Rookery Bay Reserve staff partners with Audubon Florida to conduct bi-monthly shorebird surveys from north Keewaydin Island down to Second Chance Critical Wildlife Area (near Cape Romano). Learn more about this partnership. Learn more about this partnership.
Surveys follow protocol established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and data collected includes flock location, size, species composition, activity and incidence of disturbance. Special attention is placed on five shorebirds FWC recognizes as Focal Species: American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates), Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus), Wilson's Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) and Red Knot (Calidris canutus). Additionally, all birds observed with unique color-coded leg bands are reported to the USGS Bird Band Laboratory.
The goals of these surveys are to better understand the winter distribution of shorebirds and seabirds in our area, to recognize long-term trends or changes in winter shorebird population sizes and distribution and to help identify key wintering sites.
Data collected is input into the Rookery Bay Reserve Access database and is made available to Federal and State agencies, elected officials, scientists, conservation organizations, universities and land managers.