Chicks to watch at beach

Published May 26, 2007

Amid the onslaught of sunbathers and water lovers on the beach this holiday weekend, a stalwart group of birds will continue their struggle to survive. As part of their annual ritual, they are nesting just past the high tide mark on the coasts and islands of Tampa Bay, a region critical for their survival. Camouflage colors, once helpful in hiding chicks and eggs from predators, now add to their peril. Bird lovers ask you tread lightly to encourage the survival of many species of birds.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE: Volunteer bird ambassadors have located nesting colonies and encircled them with twine and signs throughout Tampa Bay. Talk with them and look through their spotting scopes to learn more.

WHAT'S BEING PROTECTED: A wide range of imperiled bird species like the least tern, black skimmer, snowy plover, American oystercatcher and more will be sitting on eggs or raising chicks that visually disappear into sand-scrape nests.

WHY IT MATTERS: Three of the five top nesting sites in Florida for beach nesting birds are in Tampa Bay, so their success here is critical. The three sites are two islands in Hillsborough Bay, Egmont Key and islands off Honeymoon Island north to North Anclote Bar.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Keep dogs out of posted colonies, avoid flushing the birds from their nests and exposing chicks and eggs to the sun and predators. "Go to the beach and enjoy your weekend, " said Ann Paul, regional coordinator of Audubon of Florida Coastal Island Sanctuaries. "But please make space for the wildlife."