Heading to a Florida beach this Memorial Day weekend? A wildlife conservation group is asking beachgoers to keep nesting birds in mind. Baby birds and eggs are in greater danger, as crowds of people flock to their habitats.
Many beach-dwelling birds make their nests in the Florida sand. And when threatened species, like the least tern, hatch, Julie Wraithmell, with Audubon of Florida said, “They’re basically these little fluff balls on legs that are scrambling around the beach.”
Wraithmell directs wildlife conservation efforts with Audubon of Florida. The group ropes off nesting areas on beaches to try and protect the vulnerable hatchlings.
“They’re ghost colored, they’re designed to blend in with the sand and the shells. That’s why those posted areas are so important,” she said. “Sometimes people will look in there and say, ‘There’s nothing there in there. It’s perfectly fine for me to cross it.’”
Wraithmell said, hatching season is starting just as the weather is heating up and drawing lots of people to the seashore. Threatened and closely watched bird species will continue hatching through August and potentially September, the times most popular with beachgoers.
“We know that nobody wakes up and says, ‘Gosh, I think I wanna go wreak some havoc today.’ In fact, they want to help the wildlife. And it’s just a matter of awareness that makes the difference,” she said.
The problem is, bird parents can get spooked with so many people and dogs around.
“Their natural defense, when a threat gets too close, is to draw people away, and they view people as a predator,” she said.
And with nests exposed, baby birds and eggs can fall victim to curious dogs, being trampled underfoot and simply baking in the hot Florida sun.
Wraithmell said, in addition to reading signs and avoiding roped-off areas, people can help by leaving dogs at home and not littering, which attracts bird predators.
She said, the group’s campaign aims to bring birds the same kind of attention people pay to other endangered species.
“The idea of lights-out for the turtles is kind of part of our culture now. And we need to have equal awareness for these species, which are incredibly vulnerable and also such an important part of what makes Florida special,” she said.
Volunteers from Audubon of Florida will be posted at more than 25 beaches over Memorial Day weekend to remind people about bird nests. And Wraithmell said, the group is inviting more people to volunteer with other conservation projects.