Springtime is for the Birds
It's spring in the Florida Panhandle, and that means it's nesting season for many species of
shorebirds and seabirds. Franklin County contains some of the most significant nesting areas in
the panhandle, including the old St. George Island bridge causeway and "Bird Island" dredge spoil
island, both managed by the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR).
From April 1 to August 31, both areas are closed to all human and animal traffic. The old causeway
is conferred the special designation of being a "Critical Wildlife Area" due to the high number of
threatened and endangered birds that nest here and marine patrol will enforce this designation.
Least terns, gull-billed terns, sandwich terns, Caspian terns, royal terns, black skimmers,
American oystercatchers, and laughing gulls nest on the Causeway and all species but the laughing
gull are protected by state or federal law. In the past decade these birds have laid more than
3000 nests per year in this area. Brown pelicans and American oystercatchers nest on Bird Island
and are also both protected species. The brown pelican colony on Bird Island has grown in size in
recent years and last year 700 nests were laid by the birds.
Bird nests and colonies are very susceptible to human disturbance. Even if you aren't physically
harming a nest, a nearby presence can cause damage. If parents are forced to fly off of their nests,
eggs and chicks are vulnerable to getting caught and eaten by species such as laughing gulls and ants.
At their young age, eggs and chicks can also be over-exposed to the hot summer sun and suffer from
dehydration and death. If solitary nesters are disturbed repeatedly, the adults may abandon a nest and
any eggs in it. These eggs will not hatch without the parents' help. This is why areas that are posted
with bird signs leave a wide buffer around nesting areas. If you are near a bird nesting area and
observe parents flying off the nest, please back off until you are far enough away that the parents
settle back down on their nests, and respect bird signs in posted areas.
Many bird species have lost nesting habitat due to human development on our beaches. For this reason
it is very important that we give these birds a chance to nest undisturbed in their remaining nesting
areas. ANERR works in partnership with many other agencies and volunteers who monitor and protect our
birds. For more information about our local and state shorebirds, please call ANERR at (850) 670-7700
or visit the Florida Shorebird Alliance partnership website at
Least tern hatchlings are well camouflaged