Boaters and beachgoers will have fewer places to enjoy the shore in the coming months along the north end of Little Talbot Island State Park. Portions are closed off as birds flock to the private shorelines for nesting.
All shoals and emergent islands, such as Little Bird and Big Bird Island, are considered critical wildlife areas and are also closed. The least tern, black simmer and American Oystercatcher are just some of the species that inhabit the area.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Audubon Florida and the Florida Parks Service are closing the areas to create a healthy environment for shoreline birds that have declined in population in recent decades.
“Beach-nesting birds prefer to nest on beaches that have little to no vegetation,” said Marianne Korosy, director of bird conservation for Audubon Florida. “Low-profile beaches and islands that are washed over frequently…the salt water kills the vegetation. The birds can nest there and are able to see predators and people coming.”
Many areas will reopen when the birds have left, but some of the areas will be closed year round as other birds use them in the winter.
Korosy said that several factors have contributed to a declining shorebird population since the 1980s. Coastal development has meant more people at the beach and less safe areas for the birds.
“Boats land on [Bird] Island and they let their dogs off, and they’re predators to birds,” Korosy said. “The birds fly off their nest and leave the eggs exposed to the sun. And the eggs will literally cook in 10 to 15 minutes.”
More people also means more trash, which attracts coyotes and raccoons.
“As our population and coastal development has increased, those predators have come along with us,” Korosy said.
Tropical storms and hurricanes in Florida have also created tough nesting environments, according to Korosy.
“Children like to run through them and make them fly,” Korosy said. “But those birds are sitting on the beach, digesting their food. Let them sit in the sand and rest.”
With the Fourth of July just a few weeks away, Korosy suggests moving fireworks a couple hundred feet away from any nesting areas and picking up any trash that accumulates.
“Trash on the beach, especially food, draws gulls and crows,” she said. “Both of those are predators for these nesting birds.”
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