Don’t Run Through The Birds!

Don’t run through the birds!

We’ve all seen it before: a large public square, maybe New York City or a larger ancient public square in a foreign country filled with resting pigeons. A small child spots them and runs through, causing the flock to disperse. Or, a hand-holding couple walks through the resting flock only to suddenly embrace while pigeons take flight. Is it beautiful? Some people think so, especially film makers, and so now it’s the “thing” to run or walk through a flock of resting birds, flushing them out.

But for the birds, it is the wrong thing to do. I cannot speak for the pigeons but I will speak for the migratory shorebirds that rest along the Florida shoreline this time of year.

Resting

Migratory birds fly hundreds of miles to stopover at our beaches along the Gulf Coast. They fly at night and rest in colonies for protection.  For some, this is a layover before heading farther north in the late winter. So, that group of birds you see during your beach walk are tired. Some in the center are sleeping while the outer circle are on guard.

Migratory shorebirds need their energy to either fly further or to start nesting.

When startled, the birds scramble to get away from the predator: you. The sleeping birds are jarred out of sleep and know they must fly because the other birds are doing so. Instinct tells them they’re in danger and must take flight. Since the birds are resting so closely together, they risk injuring their wings as they hastily take flight.  Injured shorebirds cannot fly further to their nesting spots. They cannot fly to hunt for food and risk death.

Nesting

Not all birds nest in trees. Many of the birds that come here to the Gulf Coast beaches are beach nesters.  They nest in the dunes, near beach grasses, or out in the open, The nest is a shallow scrape in the sand. It’s barely deep enough for eggs and the parent to sit in so shorebird nests are difficult to spot.

The colony of birds on the beach may be protecting nests with eggs or hatchlings.

When a person flushes the colony, the birds scatter leaving the nests, the eggs, or the hatchlings vulnerable to predators. Sea gulls or fish crows can swoop in and take the eggs or chicks. The sun’s heat can damage the eggs or overheat the chicks. And since shorebird eggs are so well camouflaged and the nests are hard to find, the person running through the bird colony can step on eggs, or cause injury or death to the chicks.

Even after the chicks hatch, they need a couple of months to learn to fly and become self-sufficient. If they cannot fly yet, you have put in harm’s way.

Danger to children

Although it looks like fun for a small child to flush the birds, please keep your children away from shorebirds on the beach. A child, getting caught in the flurry of confused wing flapping is at risk for getting injured as well.  Frightened birds may also defecate which could land on your child.

Keep your distance

If the birds become agitated and start to move away, then you are too close.

The child or adult who runs toward them with the goal of flushing the group to watch them fly around, is causing confusion and possibly injury.

Many of our shorebirds are on a national or state, endangered or threatened species list. They are federally protected and causing harm on purpose is illegal in many jurisdictions. In Florida is it illegal to disturb or harm wildlife. If you see someone not following the rules or spot an animal in distress, please call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at either 888-404-FWCC or *FWC. You might be surprised by the number of calls they get; don’t be the person being called on.

Shorebirds and pets

Many beaches are closed to pets. This also includes your cat. Take your dog to a dog-friendly designated beach. The rental office you booked your vacation with or the local visitors bureau website will direct you to the beaches that allow dogs. Do not let your cat roam the beach. They prey on birds and the endangered beach mouse (on the north Gulf Coast). It is possible they could dig up turtle eggs, too. Board your pet while on vacation if these rules are not possible to follow.

Pledge to protect

Pledge to save the chicks by protecting nesting shorebirds. Enjoy your time at the beach but remember that it is not your home rather it is home to wildlife. Please respect their home.

Caspian Tern

The Caspian Tern is the largest Tern in the world.  In the Western Hemisphere it usually winters in Central America, migrates throughout the eastern part of the United States and nests along beaches as far north as Oregon and Canada.  A rare breeder in Florida, where is spends a lot of time, it has been found to scrape out nests near small tufts of beach grass and shells, lay eggs that are buff color and lightly spotted and raise young.  These are found near Tampa.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, www.allaboutbirds.com, the Caspian Tern is on the Least Concern list for bird conservation meaning it is not endangered, just being watched..  However, people need to be aware of these and other shorebirds to avoid them ending up on the endangered list.

Many beach goers feel that they are free to use any part of the beach and that the nesting areas are an annoyance. They don’t feel that, by hanging out near the ropes that surround a nesting bird area, they are doing anything wrong.  Many people don’t believe birds are that important to the eco-system.

If you set up on the beach near a roped nesting area, birds of prey (larger birds, fish crows, eagles) are attracted because they are looking for food.  People on the beach means there will be food thrown around for these birds of prey to grab and fight over.  Meanwhile, chances are great they flying bird will spot a nesting bird sitting on its nest.  Feeling threatened, the nesting bird flees leaving either the eggs or the  chicks vulnerable to the prey.

Caspian Terns are aggressive birds not to be messed with.  It has been documented that Caspian Terns have attacked people on the head, who have come too close to their nesting grounds.  It is wise to give these and other nesting shorebirds their space.  The beach is large enough for everyone.

If you’d like to help out the organizations that educate people, raising awareness of nesting shorebirds, you can donate to this organization, Save the Chicks, by clicking the button on the Donate page.  Or, by purchasing a set of Caspian Tern notecards from Crafty Beachcomber on Etsy.  Each set of four different photos are attached to blank, ivory cards suitable for framing.  There is a limited edition of 100 of these numbered sets.  The photos are above. Proceeds from the sales of the limited edition card set will be given to an group that works hard to educate beach goers about what the roped areas mean, the importance of birds to the eco-system and other crucial.  Subscribe to this blog, on the button to right on this page, for more information about the group we pick as financial beneficiary this year.

Save the Chicks