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Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve - Wading and Diving Colonial Nesting Birds

In the late 19th century, after 40 years of plume hunting, wading birds became a focal point for conservation. In the 1970s, extensive colonial nesting bird surveys were initiated along the North American Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Wading birds have a high aesthetic and recreational value to humans, and the birds' reproductive performance is a crucial aspect of their population dynamics. Anthropological interference has led to the decline of many bird species in southwest Florida, through both direct and indirect effects. Hydrological changes within a watershed, for example, can put stress on native bird species as wetlands that drain too quickly are unable to maintain ample food supplies for wading birds. This can lead to diminished or failed reproductive efforts.

Other anthropological activities have more direct and immediate consequences. Colonial nesting wading birds are particularly susceptible to local human disturbances. Many recreational activities within the aquatic preserves happen within the 109 yards (100 m) buffer suggested for nesting wading birds. For example, several wading and diving bird nesting colonies within CHAP have been impacted by human disturbances, including camping on active nesting islands and eco-tour boats flushing colonies multiple times a day. Disturbances in early nest building and incubation periods can cause nest desertion, and frequent disturbance may cause a reduction in clutch size and hatching success.

Monitoring, education and maintenance of natural conditions on the rookery islands are reasonable steps in addressing many of the anthropological issues facing wading and diving bird colonies. Efforts to provide the public with information on safe wildlife viewing procedures and proper boating distances to rookery islands are ongoing. High population turnover rates due to the large number of seasonal residents and vacationing visitors in the area demand that educational efforts be maintained continuously.

CHAP staff investigate potential nesting islands within CHAP annually and conducts monthly colonial wading bird surveys with volunteers. The results of these surveys and other data collected by J.N. Ding Darling NWR, Audubon, and Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve staff are reviewed annually.

Two causes of habitat degradation on rookery islands are the intrusion of exotic vegetation and the accumulation of marine debris, particularly fishing line that can entangle wildlife. CHAP staff survey for exotic vegetation and remove it with the help of partner agencies. CHAP staff also conduct regular trash and fishing line clean-ups on rookery islands, in cooperation with other agencies, organizations and volunteers.

Last Modified:
February 10, 2020 - 3:24pm

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