PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

It’s nesting season on the Florida coast! Here’s what you should know to help protect the birds.

Birds have begun nesting along the Florida coast. Here’s what you should know to help protect the birds and their ecosystems this spring and summer.

Shorebirds and seabirds build their nest in the sand, but be careful – these nests tend to be shallow, and their eggs are difficult to see. The eggs are often camouflaged in the sand, which is a form of predator protection. They can be easily missed and stepped on.

On our beaches, some of the most common birds you might see nesting are snowy plovers, least terns, black skimmers, American oystercatchers and Wilson’s plovers.

“People and coastal birds can share the beach,” said Audrey DeRose-Wilson, the director of bird conservation for Audubon Florida . “The key thing is to keep your distance while you’re recreating on the beach.”

This involves respecting post areas, such as signs or rope marking where the birds are nesting.

DeRose-Wilson said that even if you don’t see anything, it’s best to stay away from these areas since the adult birds can be cryptic. This is the case when adult birds might dive-bomb you. In an instance like that, simply move away, even if you don’t see any nest-postings.

If you go to a beach that allows dogs, keep your dog on a leash. Nesting birds view dogs as predators, no matter how the dogs are acting. DeRose-Wilson said the best thing to do is to leave your dog at home when you visit the beach.

Another way you can help to keep the birds safe is by throwing away trash at the beach. Trash attracts animals that prey on the birds and their eggs, such as racoons, foxes, and coyotes.

“Carrying in and carrying out trash helps reduce risk of predation on these animals,” DeRose-Wilson said.

DeRose-Wilson said that another thing to note is that the birds nesting along the Florida beaches often reflect the quality of the beaches and barrier islands. The types of habitats the birds use provide storm protection and other economic benefits for humans.

An American Oystercatcher walks through the shoreline.
Trudy Walden/Audubon Photography Awards
Audubon Florida
An American Oystercatcher walks through the shoreline.

“They are a type of indicator that each ecosystem is healthy and in good shape,” DeRose-Wilson said.

For example, beaches with healthy ecosystems will attract nesting birds because of the high quality of the environment, such as minimal trash and pollutants. If a beach is too developed or there are incompatible habitat uses there, there won’t be as many birds.

“Simply seeing the birds there is a really good sign, seeing the birds breeding there is a really good sign,” DeRose-Wilson said. “When birds are disturbed they can take flight.”

Birds migrate, nest, and breed on our beaches. These activities take up lots of energy, so DeRose-Wilson emphasized that it’s important to take whatever measures possible to protect the birds and give them space, whether that’s leaving the dog at home, picking up trash, or keeping a distance from the nesting areas.