SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Tampa Bay area beaches will be packed this holiday weekend with more than just tourists – rare shorebirds are packing the sand to hatch their young. And wildlife officials are putting out a warning because beachgoers could unknowingly be putting these protected birds in danger.
State officials say these birds are already shrinking in numbers because of increased development along the water. They’re protected for a reason, and if we’re not careful around them, these animals could soon be endangered.
Along many beaches across Tampa Bay, there are large areas where beachgoers cannot go – you’ll typically find large groups of birds nestled together on the sand.
There’s a reason why – rare nesting shorebirds like black skimmers and least terns are raising their hatchlings. But these babies are competing for space on this busy holiday weekend, and it’s leading to a lot of work at Save Our Seabirds.
The organization rescues and rehabilitates birds. And officials there say around this time of year, they get a spike in calls about abandoned baby shorebirds.
“It’s a dangerous time for them,” said Save Our Seabirds CEO David Pilston.
Florida Fish and Wildlife is warning beachgoers to be extra cautious around these protected birds.
“They don’t really have nests they just scrape a little hole in the sand and lay their eggs right there, and their eggs are camouflaged. That’s supposed to be for protection but it can also be dangerous because people may not notice them,” said Pilston.
FWC also warns that loud fireworks can scare off the adult birds.
“If the parents aren’t protecting the eggs or the chicks, then they’re exposed to the elements and also to predators,” said Pilston.
Matthew Kats has been keeping an eye out for the birds during his beach trip this week.
“Never seen them before but this is my first time seeing them. They’re really cool looking,” said Kats.
But he’s keeping his distance.
“We don’t like to bother them,” Kats added.
So wildlife officials are urging visitors to be cautious this weekend. If you spot the birds, don’t light any fireworks near them, and keep dogs on a leash. Also, avoid flying kites near where the birds are nesting.
“These birds are declining in numbers rapidly and they need our protection,” explained Pilston.
Officials say the best thing to do is to stay away from any large groups of birds and attend an official fireworks display. Organizers of large-scale fireworks work with wildlife officials to make sure animals are not harmed.
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