Shorebirds face uncertain future in Indian River County. Join a new effort to help!

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
May 2012

Just as we’ve learned our Lagoon is dying (see March Hoot), we now know that our shorebirds are facing a difficult future.  On April 18th, we had our first introductory meeting of the Treasure Coast Shorebird Partnership.  There are not much recorded data of shorebird nesting in Indian River County.  This is probably the result of human development of our beaches and shorelines, beach raking, dune buggies, predation by Crows, Laughing Gulls, raccoons, and disturbance by dogs. There has been much controversy in the press over dogs on our beaches,.  Some folks think that dogs present a danger to the birds only when a dog chases a bird.  However, birds perceive dogs as predators as they look like foxes and coyotes, which are natural enemies, and the birds take flight, leaving ground nests and chicks as easy targets.  Studies show that dogs disturb birds more than humans do.  Better to keep dogs off the beach in sensitive bird areas (especially inlets), and, if dogs must be allowed, arrange for a limited dog beach area and strictly enforce leash laws.

Many of our shorebirds and seabirds, particularly Least Terns, but also Roseate Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Black Skimmers, Killdeer, and American Oystercatchers, have shifted to nesting on flat gravel rooftops in our county.  In 2010 (the latest survey data) there were 59 breeding pairs of Least Terns but none of the other species.  There were only two active sites in Indian River County: Vero Bowl, 929 14th Lane Vero Beach and Bealls/Office Depot, 5950 20th St., Vero Beach. For some reason, four sites, are no longer active:  Two in Sebastian (Publix, 9580 US1 North and Winn-Dixie, 995 Sebastian Blvd) and two in Vero Beach (Walgreens- 5755 20th St. and Macy’s- Indian River Mall, Rt. 60).  Two historic sites in Vero Beach were no longer suitable (Lowes, Home Improvement Warehouse 6110 20th St. and Publix, 2040 58th Ave).

Richard Herren, Indian River County Sea Turtle Coordinator, and Naomi Avissar, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Shorebird Partnership Coordinator, hosted the meeting for the Florida Shorebird Alliance (FSA).  Attending were local, state, and federal environmental agencies and a few non-profit organizations besides PIAS.  Audubon Florida, through the efforts of Monique Borboen-Abrams and their Coastal Team, has played a major leadership role in preserving shore birds on the Gulf Coast and Northeast Coast of Florida.  You can check out the statewide partnership network, the Florida Shorebird Alliance (, and the online monitoring database, the Florida Shorebird Database ( 

FSA partners are looking for dedicated observers to help with surveys on our shores and rooftops. After a training session these observers will help with beach and rooftop monitoring and stewardship activities, which include posting and pre-posting sites, educating the public, preventing disturbances, become extra eyes for the county and state managers, protecting migrating and wintering birds, advocating for the birds, chick-checking, and rescuing chicks which often fall off roof tops. Some activities, like rooftop monitoring, are suitable for beginning birders. Those who work for sea turtles so well could also look out for our shorebirds.

Rooftops are not a long-term solution for shorebird and seabird breeding.  Flat gravel roofs are being replaced with metal or rubber roofs that are not conducive to nesting. Unless we provide and maintain shorebird sanctuaries on our beaches, we will not have beach-nesting birds in Indian River County except for the occasional odd couple that will try to breed here.  It will be a big loss for Indian River County.  Actions that may also help: Stop repeated beach raking and removal of natural sea weed and shells from our beaches, Stop the park service having daily dune buggy runs monitoring the beach leaving deep tracks all along the beaches, Keep dogs on leashes, Stop littering with destructive plastics and debris that harm our birds.

Please call our office if you are interested in being a part or the Treasure Coast Shorebird Partnership.

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