Snowy plover nesting season getting under way on Siesta

Barricades protect nesting areas at a beach access point (contributed photo by Marinell Davis)

Sarasota Audubon volunteer Dr. Allan Worms has identified six to eight snowy plovers that already appear to have paired up in preparation for nesting, he told members of the Siesta Key Association during their April 5 meeting.

“They’re acting like spring is in bloom,” Worms added of the birds.

Altogether, Worms said he had identified about 12 plovers on the Key this spring. “We are looking forward to having nests, probably very soon, and after that, eggs and young,” he added.

Sarasota Audubon President Jeanne Dubi told the SKA board members and approximately 15 people in the audience that it costs the chapter about $10,000 a year “to supervise and manage all the beach-nesting bird programs on our beaches.”

The SKA board unanimously approved a motion by Director Beverly Arias to contribute $1,000 to the cause this year.

Most of the county’s beach-nesting birds are on Siesta Key, Dubi pointed out, principally because the beach is wide and they have plenty of room to make their nests and find food.

Altogether, she said, Florida has only 225 nesting pairs of snowy plovers — all of them are on the Gulf Coast. Between 8% and 10% of that total are in Sarasota County, she said.

The Sarasota Audubon chapter has been monitoring the beach-nesting birds for 25 years, Dubi said. However, the members began ramping up their efforts about three years ago. “We have a huge responsibility to protect (the plovers),” she added.

Over the past couple of years, Dubi said, the chapter had been able to count on about 50 volunteers, including Worms, a wildlife biologist, and Catherine Luckner, the SKA president, and her husband, Bob. “We’ve been really successful in getting some of these little birds to fledgling stage,” Dubi said, referring to the point at which the young birds can fly.

The volunteers have undertaken what Dubi characterized as “massive outreach on the Key,” among residents, private contributors to the protection effort and law enforcement personnel. “We really consider this to be a great success,” she said, “and we want to keep it going.”

After they are born, Dubi said, “We actually trail (the chicks), to make sure that we can intercept any disturbances.”

A snowy plover chick on Siesta Beach (contributed photo from the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast)

In past presentations to the SKA, Dubi has likened the chicks to cotton balls on toothpicks, because they are so tiny. “Once you see one of these little things,” she said, “you fall madly in love with them.”

Worms explained that even the adult birds are so small, “they can hide in a footprint.” Tourists on the beach may not even spot the birds, which are the color of the sand, he said, until the birds move.

Dubi pointed out, “They just plop an egg right in the sand. … That’s why we have our egg detectors out there looking.”

With the primary plover nesting season running from March to August, Dubi said, the volunteers have to be concerned about special events, such as Siesta Fiesta — the annual fine arts show, which will be held April 14-15 this year — and the July Fourth fireworks show put on by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. Such activities bring even more people to the Key, she said, which means the Audubon chapter needs more help to protect the birds.

Volunteers annually rope off the areas where they find nests, she continued, in an effort to prevent people from disturbing the birds. “I know that some people really don’t care for that,” Dubi said of the “no trespassing” areas. However, when a person complains to an Audubon volunteer, she said, the volunteer takes that opportunity to educate the complainant about the birds and the goal of helping the chicks reach fledgling stage.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, people are perfectly OK with it,” Dubi said. “In fact,” she said, “they love it; they are gratified we are doing it.”

Dubi also noted that one of the 50 criteria Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, uses in awarding rankings to beaches across the country is the number of birds that call a particular beach home. “It’s a credit to all of us in this county that we can support this kind of effort,” she added, referring to the protection of the plovers.

Behind the scenes, Dubi said, Audubon members also work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Audubon chapter, to make sure that their interaction with the public adheres to appropriate standards.

Moreover, she said, the volunteers collect data that they submit to the national Audubon office.

To help with expenses in their work, Dubi said, the local chapter always is seeking funding. Sarasota chapter members, she said, have been covering about 50% of their costs, with grants and contributions making up the other portion of the funding.

Anyone interested in donating funds to the effort, Catherine Luckner said, could visit the SKA’s website ( for a link to Sarasota Audubon.

Luckner also noted that the chapter could use more volunteers.

“An hour (of volunteer time) on the weekend would be wonderful,” Dubi said.

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