TALLAHASSEE -- This Independence Day Weekend, Audubon is asking beach-going Floridians to leave personal fireworks at home and attend official displays instead. Fireworks explosions, large and small, are especially frightening to coastal birds and their dependent chicks.
"July 4th weekend is always a fun time to enjoy Florida’s coast, but we're not the only ones who think so," said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida's Director of Wildlife Conservation. "It is also a critical time for some of our most iconic coastal birds – many of which are still guarding flightless chicks. A single ill-placed fireworks explosion or other disturbance can cause birds to fly from a nest, leaving their tiny babies vulnerable to predation and over-heating.”
Two recent incidents highlight the urgent need for increased awareness of Florida’s coastal nesting birds. In June, a Least Tern colony was destroyed by visitors with unleashed dogs on Disappearing Island near New Smyrna Beach. And just last week, Snowy Plover, Black Skimmer, and Least Tern nests were crushed by a motorcycle rider that ignored signs on Siesta Key.
“The incidents at Siesta Key and Disappearing Island are tragic reminders of the damage that can be done by inattentive beachgoers,” added Wraithmell. “Floridians can help by respecting all posted areas, cleaning up trash, and setting a good example for others by leaving personal fireworks at home.”
"Whether or not the disturbance is intentional, the result for the birds is the same," said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida Executive Director, adding, "Visitors to Florida’s incredible beaches can ensure this Independence Day Weekend is safe and enjoyable for people and birds alike."
Each year along Florida's coast, state and local officials, along with Audubon volunteers, staff, and partners, post many of the state's beach and island nesting sites to prevent human disturbance. Additionally, volunteer "bird stewards" from local Audubon chapters and other partners will help chaperone nesting bird colonies on many Florida beaches this weekend. These stewards help educate beachgoers about the breathtaking spectacle of these colonies while reminding pedestrians not to enter protected areas. Volunteers also help monitor colonies to collect important citizen science data about the birds' nesting efforts.
The Gulf of Mexico's waterbirds suffered dire effects from the Deepwater Horizon disaster; Audubon efforts to protect nesting birds are helping to recover these vulnerable species.
The birds need help: to learn about volunteer bird stewarding opportunities, citizens are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Audubon's Independence Day Beach Tips:
· Leave personal fireworks at home and attend an official display instead. Impromptu fireworks on Florida's beaches and waterways can have catastrophic effects for vulnerable chicks and eggs.
· Respect posted areas, even if you don't see birds inside them. Birds, eggs and nests are well-camouflaged with the beach environment, and disturbance by people can cause the abandonment of an entire colony.
· Give colony islands a wide berth, and when fishing, be sure not to leave any equipment behind. Always dispose of fishing line and tackle appropriately.
· Avoid disturbing groups of birds. If birds take flight or appear agitated, you are too close.
· Refrain from walking dogs or allowing cats to roam freely on beaches during the nesting season. Even on a leash, dogs are perceived as predators by nesting birds, sometimes causing adults to flush at even greater distances than pedestrians alone.
· Don't let pets off boats onto posted islands or beaches.
· If you must walk your dog on beaches, always keep them on a leash and away from the birds.
· Do not bury or leave trash, picnic leftovers, charcoal or fish scraps on the beach. They attract predators of chicks and eggs, such as fish crows, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and Laughing Gulls.
· Beach-nesting birds sometimes nest outside of posted areas. If you notice birds circling noisily over your head, you may be near a nesting colony. Leave quietly, and enjoy the colony from a distance.
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