FWC, partners prepare for nesting season on Critical Wildlife Areas (CWAs)

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June 10, 2019:  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), in collaboration with the Florida Parks Service and Audubon Florida, is working to protect the nesting habitats for least terns, American oystercatchers and Wilson’s plovers in Nassau Sound.

Portions of Nassau Sound Islands Critical Wildlife Area, known locally as Big Bird Island, will be closed to allow for successful nesting of these beach-dependent species. Signs were recently installed along the shoreline to notify boaters and paddlers the area is temporarily closed to landings to protect the nesting birds and flightless chicks.

“This time of year, nesting shorebirds require quiet beaches and are very sensitive to human disturbances,” said Michelle Waterman, park manager at Talbot Islands State Parks. “Providing resource-based recreation is an important part of the Florida Park Service mission. Closed areas will reopen to recreational activities when nesting season ends and all chicks are flight capable.”

A closed sign marks the CWA during nesting season. FWC photo.

“While Floridians and visitors flock to our beautiful beaches, shorebirds flock to protected places like Nassau Sound, the Talbot Islands and Amelia Island for the peace and privacy they need to raise their vulnerable fuzzy chicks to adulthood,” said Dr. Marianne Korosy, director of bird conservation for Audubon Florida.

“For nesting birds, CWAs are lifesaving. When birds are disturbed during the critical nesting period, they often fly off their nests, leaving eggs or chicks vulnerable to the sun and predators. Repeated disturbance can lead to entire colonies abandoning a nesting site,” said Dr. Brad Gruver, leader of FWC’s Species Conservation Planning section.

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The area posted with CWA signs as closed to public access is at the northern tip of Little Talbot Island State Park. The CWA includes areas known locally as Little Bird and Big Bird islands. Currently, only Big Bird (now connected to the north end of Little Talbot Island) is emergent enough at high tides to support nesting birds.

In 2016, Nassau Sound Islands CWA was approved for re-establishment by the FWC to improve protections for imperiled beach-dependent birds. Signs are temporarily installed on the shoreline to clearly mark the CWA as closed to public access for the nesting season. People, pets and vessels are prohibited from entering the posted area during the closure period, per state rule 68A-19.005 F.A.C.

Nesting areas will be monitored throughout the nesting season. Signs are removed at the end of the breeding season, when nesting is complete and young birds are flight-capable.

When visiting any beach during the nesting season, visitors should consider the following guidelines to share the shore with wildlife:

  • Watch where you walk – be careful not to step on eggs or chicks.
  • Respect posted areas and keep your distance from resting or nesting birds.
  • Observe regulations pertaining to dogs: they’re prohibited from the beaches of Little and Big Talbot Island state parks and Amelia Island State Park.
  • Be sure to dispose of your trash properly. Place it in trash cans or take it home with you if none are available.
  • If birds appear agitated, take flight or swoop at you, you’re too close to their nest, so turn around or alter your route to avoid nesting areas.
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Florida State Parks offer numerous recreational options in northeast Florida. To learn more, visit FloridaStateParks.org.

To learn more about Florida’s CWAs, visit MyFWC.com/CWA.

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