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Environment

Wildlife Groups Warn Tampa Bay Beachgoers About Threatened Birds

By Jeffrey Smith

Wildlife groups are warning beachgoers of a threatened species, the black skimmer, showing up at beaches around the Tampa Bay area.

Marianne Korosy, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon Florida, says the birds are extremely important in determining the health of the ecosystem.

“They are one of the top predators of their ecosystem, so they serve as an indicator species of the health of the whole food web in the coastal marine environment,” said Korosy.

Black skimmer walking along the beach at Lido Key in Sarasota County.
Credit Cathy Carter / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Black skimmer walking along the beach at Lido Key in Sarasota County.

There are several active colonies of black skimmers in the area, according to Korosy, including some at St. Pete Beach and Indian Rocks Beach in Pinellas County, and Siesta Key and Lido Key in Sarasota County.

She says that while gulls are the biggest threat to the colonies, human disturbances to their nests also contribute to declining numbers.

“We ask that people pack up their trash, especially food,” said Korosy. “Crows and gulls hang out and patrol the beaches for trash, they see it as a food source but the problem is they also eat eggs and baby birds.”

Rachel Pettit, a hospital tech with Save Our Seabirds, says that black skimmer fledglings have natural camouflage and will sometimes lay flat in the sand and wait for their mother to return. She says this is normal behavior.

“When you have young nestlings out on the sand they will park, like a baby deer does, they’ll just crouch down in the sand and lay down completely in the sand until their mother comes back,” said Pettit. “We’ll have people call and ask questions and we will let them know that the bird is most likely safe but they should back up about 20 to 30 feet to allow the parent room to come back in.”

Korosy says the areas the colonies are in are well marked and roped off. 

“People don’t need to stay away from the posted areas… we have set up a posted perimeter to give them plenty of room but it’s really a great thing for people to go up and take a look,” said Korosy – just don’t cross the barriers.