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Florida FWC: Fireworks and nesting shorebirds don’t mix

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Fireworks and Florida’s beach wildlife just doesn’t mix.

Independence Day is this Saturday, and the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asks the public to protect beach-nesting shorebirds statewide by being careful with celebratory fireworks and to avoid using personal pyrotechnics at the beach.

Shorebirds are nesting on beaches along Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts; many birds are still watching over flightless chicks during the Independence Day weekend, which is expected to be busy with beach-goers.

Birds such as snowy plovers, least terns, black skimmers, American oystercatchers and Wilson’s plover are among the state’s beach-nesting species facing conservation challenges. For survival, they need people’s help.

“Fireworks launched too close or toward a nesting colony can cause adult shorebirds to flush off their nests and chicks to scatter, leaving the chicks vulnerable to predators, the elements and the potential of getting accidentally stepped on by beach-goers,” said Nancy Douglass, shorebird conservation worker for the FWC.

“Leaving personal fireworks at home and giving the birds space are ways that residents can still enjoy the beach while helping to keep shorebirds and their chicks safe,” she adds.

The Commission offers tips to protect beach-nesting shorebirds, both during the holiday weekend and beyond:

  • Leave personal fireworks, including sparklers, at home and attend an official fireworks display instead.
  • Keep your distance, whether on the beach or paddling watercraft along the shore. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. A general rule is to stay at least 300 feet from a nest. Birds calling out loudly or dive-bombing are giving signals for you to back off.
  • Never intentionally force birds to fly or run. They use up energy they need for nesting, and eggs or chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun’s heat or predators. Teach children not to chase shorebirds and kindly ask fellow beach-goers to do the same.
  • Respect posted shorebird nesting areas. Avoid posted sites and use designated walkways when possible.
  • It is best not to take pets to the beach, but if you do, keep them on a leash and avoid shorebird nesting areas.
  • Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators such as raccoons and crows, which can prey on shorebird chicks. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.

Floridians and visitors can also help by spreading the word. If beachgoers see others disturbing nesting birds, gently let them know how what they are doing could hurt the birds’ chances of survival.

If the behavior continues, report activities to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone, or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com.

The FWC offers ways to share the beach with nesting shorebirds at MyFWC.com/Shorebirds and download the “Share the Beach with Beach-Nesting Birds.”

More information is also at the Florida Shorebird Alliance website: www.flshorebirdalliance.org.

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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