Wildlife organizations pleading with people to protect shore-nesting birds over July Fourth holiday

Only public fireworks displays are legal, Sheriff’s Office points out

A snowy plover pair poses on Longboat Key. Photo contributed by Kylie Wilson

Bursts of glittery multi-hued fireworks are one of the greatest sources of excitement for many people on July Fourth.

Yet, those same pyrotechnic displays that dazzle and delight humans can invoke severe anxiety in beach-nesting birds, wildlife experts say. Some species — such as the tiny snowy plovers nesting on Sarasota County’s barrier islands this summer — will abandon eggs close to hatching, and even chicks, if they feel threatened, Kylie Wilson, the Sarasota coordinator for Florida Audubon’s Shorebird & Stewardship Program, told The Sarasota News Leader.

“Fireworks are a HUGE disturbance for birds,” she pointed out in an email.

Wilson is making every effort to spread that news in advance of the July Fourth holiday next week. Her focus, however, is not the big show planned by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, for example, or Suncoast Charities for Children’s annual display on the Sarasota bayfront, near Marina Jack.

“The majority of our birds on Siesta are north of the Public Beach,” she noted in the email, “so we just want to urge people to go see an official display and not to set off their own [fireworks] as they could be near a potential nest.”

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office also strives each year to alert people to the fact that it is illegal to set off fireworks, unless the pyrotechnics are part of a public display for which the organizers have obtained the necessary permits.

Deputy Chris McGregor listens to a question at a Siesta Key Association meeting. File photo

During a 2014 presentation to members of the Siesta Key Association, Deputy Chris McGregor discussed the state law.

“If it flies or explodes, it’s illegal,” he explained.

Each year on the Fourth, he continued, deputies find people on the island who have spent thousands of dollars on fireworks that are illegal, and the Sheriff’s Office confiscates the materials.

When people say they had no idea they would be unable to shoot off the pyrotechnics, McGregor added, deputies ask if they signed paperwork at the time of their purchases. Invariably, the people respond, “Yes,” prompting deputies then to ask, “Did you read it?” Typically, the reply to that question is “No.”

The Florida State Statutes have provisions for the sale of fireworks for use in agriculture and at fish hatcheries, McGregor noted, so the paperwork people sign has them concurring that they plan to use the materials only for such purposes.

Florida State Statute 791.07 says, “Nothing in this chapter shall prohibit the importation, purchase, sale, or use of fireworks used or to be used solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries; and such use shall be governed entirely by the rules prescribed by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”

The statute points out that “Fireworks” do not include sparklers permitted under provisions of the statute or toy pistols, toy canes, toy guns or other devices “in which paper caps containing twenty-five hundredths grains or less of explosive compound are used, providing that they are so constructed that the hand cannot come in contact with the cap when in place for the explosion ….”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) also spreads the word about the need to protect coastal nesting birds from the devastating effects of fireworks.

In a news release, FWC is asking beach-goers to give the birds space. “Fireworks explosions, large and small, scare adults from nests, leaving them vulnerable to predation or crushing underfoot; chicks scatter and find themselves lost and in harm’s way,” the release points out.

In 1980, Florida had 10 million residents, FWC notes. As of this year, that number is approximately 21 million, with another 100 million tourists visiting annually, FWC adds. At the same time, FWC says, populations of many coastal birds have plummeted. To ensure that visitors and residents will be able to enjoy native and migratory birds for generations to come, FWC is urging the public to be mindful of the nesting shorebirds and other wildlife when they head to the beach for the holiday.

A black skimmer stands with a chick on Lido Key. Photo contributed by Kylie Wilson

FWC offers these tips:

  • Do not feed gulls or herons at the beach, or bury or leave trash, picnic leftovers, charcoal or fish scraps on the beach. These scraps attract predators of chicks and eggs, such as fish crows, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and laughing gulls.
  • 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.
  • Most people would never want to hurt baby birds. If you see people disturbing nesting birds, let them know how their actions may hurt the birds’ survival. If they continue to disturb nesting shorebirds, or if you see people entering closed Critical Wildlife Areas, report the action to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone, or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com.