Florida Audubon encourages residents to protect nesting shorebirds this holiday weekend

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BRADENTON BEACH, Fla. - For many Floridians on the Suncoast, Memorial Day weekend is a time to grill out, play games and enjoy the beach. But big crowds at the beach can mean big problem for nesting shorebirds.

“There is such a concentration of people, especially on Memorial Day and July 4th weekends that we feel we need to concentrate our efforts at helping protect the defenseless animals,” said Bob Dean.

Some of the defenseless animals are Black Skimmers, Snowy Plovers and Least Terns which make their nest right on the sand.

“These animals like the beach just as much as the vacationers do and we feel that we help give them a living chance to be ahead,” said Bob Dean, a Manatee Audubon Society Beach Steward volunteer.

Dean is one of many volunteers who help guard the sensitive nesting sites during busy beach weekends. On Bradenton Beach, a pair of fluffy Least Tern chicks that hatched Friday and are very dependent on their parents for survival. Volunteers like Dean try to ensure people do not disturb the nesting birds either knowingly or unknowingly. He says flying a kite near a nesting site can be harmful.

“Birds don't know a kite from a predatory hawk so that frightens them away,” said Dean, adding, “Animals will frighten them away, unruly children will frighten them away and the best thing to do is just stand back and observe them. They are fascinating to watch.”

Dean says a lot of his volunteer job is simply educating people about shorebirds.

“And once you inform them they are very interested in going along and sometimes they become good stewards of the land.”

Other Audubon Memorial Day Beach Tips include:

· Respect posted areas, even if you don't see birds inside them. Birds, eggs and nests are well-camouflaged with the beach environment, and disturbance by people can cause the abandonment of an entire colony.

· Give colony islands a wide berth, and when fishing, be sure not to leave any equipment behind. Always dispose of fishing line and tackle appropriately.

· Avoid disturbing groups of birds. If birds take flight or appear agitated, you are too close.

· Refrain from walking dogs or allowing cats to roam freely on beaches during the nesting season. Even on a leash, dogs are perceived as predators by nesting birds, sometimes causing adults to flush at even greater distances than pedestrians alone.

· Don't let pets off boats onto posted islands or beaches.

· If you must walk your dog on beaches, always keep them on a leash and away from the birds.

· Do not bury or leave trash, picnic leftovers, charcoal or fish scraps on the beach. They attract predators of chicks and eggs, such as fish crows, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and Laughing Gulls.

· Leave the fireworks at home and attend an official display instead. Impromptu fireworks on Florida's beaches and waterways can have catastrophic effects for vulnerable chicks and eggs.

· Beach-nesting birds sometimes nest outside of posted areas. If you notice birds circling noisily over your head, you may be near a nesting colony. Leave quietly, and enjoy the colony from a distance.