Birds nesting now happening on Florida shores means beachgoers should be aware of their delicate companions.
Nesting season is under way for shorebirds such as the snowy plover, black skimmer and American oystercatcher on Gasparilla Island shores and elsewhere in Southwest Florida.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said these stressed species need extra care.
The endangered snowy plover is a regular on Gasparilla Island beaches although it is difficult to see because of its wee size.
The snowy plover, for example, nests along Gasparilla Island beaches from now through August. Its population may be as few as 200 pairs in this state.
Development on coastal barrier island beaches is the primary cause snowy plovers and other beach-nesting species are threatened or endangered.
"You can save chicks and eggs from a needless death," said Nancy Douglass, FWC shorebird conservation. "If you notice birds suddenly stand up, become agitated or fly about at your approach, you are likely entering a nesting site."
Protect nesting shorebirds
Florida Wildlife Commission tips for helping protect endangered shorebirds during nesting season from now through August:
Keep your distance. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. Stay at least 300 feet from a nest.
Respect posted areas. Some shorebird nesting areas are posted with "symbolic fencing" such as signs on posts connected by twine marked with flagging tape. Avoid marked nesting areas and cross only at designated pathways. Posted beach areas may shift during the nesting season, depending on where the birds have chosen to lay eggs.
Never intentionally force birds to fly. When birds are chased or disturbed, they use energy they need for nesting and migration.
Keep pets away from nesting areas. Even well-behaved pets can be perceived as a threat. Take pets to the beach only on a leash.
Do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators such as raccoons, gulls and crows. Litter can entangle birds, sea turtles and other wildlife.
If people disturb nesting birds, gently let them know how their actions may hurt the birds' survival. If they continue to disturb nesting birds, report the activities to the FWC's Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com.
Above the high-tide mark, snowy plovers, Wilson's plovers and least terns, among other species, lay eggs in shallow depressions on the sand. The eggs are nearly invisible to predators. Unfortunately, the camouflage effect also makes the eggs nearly invisible to the untrained human eye.
Any disturbance by people, pets or vehicles can cause shorebirds to abandon their nests, resulting in the death of young chicks or the destruction of the eggs by predators. Once shorebird parents are frightened from the nest, exposed chicks or eggs can succumb to the heat of the Florida summer sun in as little as five minutes, and predation by gulls and crows increases significantly when parents are forced to leave, even for a few moments.
It is a violation of state and federal laws to harass or take any endangered or threatened birds, their eggs or young.