Nesting shorebirds protected at Estero Critical Wildlife Area
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Media contact: Gary Morse, 863-648-3852
Roger Tory Peterson, perhaps the world’s best known bird expert next to John James Audubon, proclaimed Little Estero Island his favorite shorebird viewing area. His observation underscores the importance of the area to imperiled and declining shorebird species that use the southern tip of Fort Myers Beach, and the reason the state has taken proactive measures to protect the shorebirds that nest there.
Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) is one of the few state-owned protected wildlife areas in Lee County that provide nesting habitat for endangered shorebirds and sea turtles. Biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), staff from Lee County and the town of Fort Myers Beach, and volunteers have identified, flagged and posted vulnerable shorebird-nesting areas, typically located in the dry dune areas above the high-tide mark.
The posted areas are off-limits to beachgoers and pets between the time of posting and Aug. 31. The water’s edge is accessible to beachgoers by walking around posted areas or using marked thoroughfares between posted areas. Dogs are prohibited within the CWA, even in areas open to pedestrians.
Nesting areas are posted and closed off by “symbolic fencing,” which consists of signs connected by twine and marked with flagging tape. Closed beach areas may shift during the nesting season, depending on where the birds have chosen to lay eggs at any given time. Shorebirds, marine turtles and their nests and eggs enjoy protection under state and federal law.
Additionally, permanent boundary signs at the CWA have also been installed, which designate the end of private property and the beginning of the state-designated wildlife protection area. Pets are prohibited within the CWA year-round, per city ordinance.
“Folks can still enjoy the beach; we’re just asking beachgoers to avoid a handful of closed areas where birds are nesting,” said Nancy Douglass, wildlife biologist for the FWC.
Human activity causes the greatest number of problems for beach-nesting birds, which get nervous around recreational activities like beach volleyball, kite-surfing or the family pet romping after a windblown Frisbee.
Posting is a necessity to prevent adult birds from being frightened off the nest. Without parents providing shade for their chicks, it takes only a few minutes for temperatures in the nest to rise above 100 degrees, resulting in death of the young. Young chicks and eggs also are a favorite target of crows, raccoons and gulls when parents are not immediately available to challenge hungry predators.
“Without any doubt, it is the public’s sense of stewardship for the birds that’s the real key to protecting future generations of beach-nesting wildlife,” said Douglass.
To learn more, download the “Share the Beach with Beach-nesting Birds” brochure at MyFWC.com/Wildlife. Or check out the Florida Shorebird Alliance at www.flshorebirdalliance.org.