Bird Monitoring | Rookery Bay Research Reserve


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. Below you can learn about how Rookery Bay monitors both beach-nesting birds and non-breeding shorebirds.

Beach-Nesting Birds

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.

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.

View the Florida Shorebird Alliance Database.

Bird Monitoring | Rookery Bay Research Reserve
Non-breeding Shorebirds | Rookery Bay Research Reserve

Non-breeding Shorebird Monitoring

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).

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.

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