Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) and Audubon Florida are working hard to help snowy plovers, “snowies” and other beach nesting birds flourish for generations to come.

Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) and Audubon Florida are working hard to help snowy plovers, “snowies” and other beach nesting birds flourish for generations to come. Dedicated scientists and tireless volunteers spend countless hours monitoring activity and acting as stewards at critical nesting habitats. Approximately 600 pairs of “snowies” live in Florida and of those, about 80 percent nest in the northwest panhandle. Volunteer stewards play an important role in their protection by educating beachgoers about sharing the beach with wildlife and ensuring that people and pets stay clear of critical nesting habitats.

Florida’s beautiful beaches can glisten almost as white as snow and this habitat is where the snowy plover has evolved to blend in, at times becoming practically invisible. They nest directly on the sand in a small “scrape” above the high tide line, so when you are on the beach, it is important to watch your step to ensure the protection of the snowy plover. Pay attention to posted nesting signs at local area beaches, because they designate critical breeding sites.

Activity on the beach can cause increased disturbance to nests, and make it difficult for these tiny birds to successfully raise their chicks. Often, if the parents are startled or “flushed” from their nest, the fragile eggs are left uncovered in the heat of the sun, decreasing the chances of hatching or survival. Snowy plover chicks that successfully hatch cannot fly for weeks after emerging, and rely on their camouflage to avoid predators, which can leave them vulnerable to beachgoers. Although they cannot fly, plover chicks can walk and feed themselves within a few hours after hatching and may venture well outside the posted nesting areas. Because baby “snowies” blend in so well, it can be extremely difficult to spot them from a vehicle. They may also hide beneath the beach wrack or crouch down in tire ruts when warned of approaching danger. For the protection of shore birds, it is strongly advised to keep vehicles on the road and off the beach.

Additionally, even the most docile dogs can cause a nest disturbance by resembling a natural predator of shorebirds. It is recommended that dogs be leashed when walking near nesting areas, while at several beaches including St. George Island State Park and Cape San Blas, they are not permitted at all. It is also appropriate to give a wide berth (300 feet) to any posted nesting sites, and remember it is important never to feed wildlife.

If you would like more information on how you can volunteer your time to Audubon’s Coastal Bird Stewardship Program, please contact Bonnie Samuelsen (Project Coordinator) at bsamuelsen@audubon.org or by phone at 941-951-7704.