|Least Tern at Lake Jackson|
Photo by Tim Ross
Each spring, migratory least terns (Sterna antillarum) scout local coastal areas and select a location that best meets the nesting needs of the colonial birds returning from wintering grounds in Central or South America. Over the past few years, tides and currents have been suitable for the re-formation of an emergent sandbar within DEP’s Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. This sandbar, also known as “Second Chance,” now serves as habitat for the largest beach-nesting least tern colony in south Florida.
“At least 300 nests (with eggs) and about 100 more pairs with chicks are using the ‘Second Chance’ sandbar,” said FWC regional biologist Ricardo Zambrano. “About 800 birds (400 breeding pairs) is roughly the same number of birds that had used the sandbar the last time it was this large, nearly a decade ago."
Least terns lay their well-camouflaged eggs directly on the sand, and young are mobile within a few hours of hatching. Parent birds are the eggs’ and young’s only protection against the elements and predators.
A few acres in size, the elevated sandbar is located at the western edge of the Ten Thousand Islands. It has low vegetation to provide some shade for chicks and is free of land-based predators. The sand bar is monitored weekly by Reserve staff and volunteers and staff has posted with signs and string alerting boaters of the birds’ presence.
“The sandbar provides ideal nesting conditions for least terns,” said Gary Lytton, Rookery Bay Reserve manager. “Acting like a magnet, it is attracting birds from other locations and providing the greatest chance for nesting success in the region.”
Because it is isolated from the mainland the sandbar receives minimal human disturbance, which is crucial for the success of this species. Nesting least terns are easily disturbed by people (on foot or aboard approaching vessels) as well as dogs and other animals that may be perceived as predators. Boaters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts are urged to avoid accessing, or even approaching, this important habitat until nesting season comes to a close, around mid-August.
Whenever you visit the beach, and especially during summer nesting season, do your part to share the shore with wildlife:
o Keep your distance from resting birds
o Use a high-powered spotting scope to get the best view from a reasonable distance
o Do not force birds to fly
o Respect posted areas
o Keep pets on a leash, on your boat, or leave them at home
o Don’t leave any litter behind
o Never deploy fireworks at or near an active nesting beach
Designated over 30 years ago, DEP’s Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is located in Naples on the Southwest coast of Florida. The Reserve manages 110,000 acres and is engaged in education, research, training, and stewardship. The Environmental Learning Center serves as a regional education, research and training center with a 150-seat auditorium, classrooms, research labs and state-of-the-art visitor center with aquaria and interactive exhibits. For more information on Reserve, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/rookery/.