ANNA MARIA ISLAND – It’s been a long time, longer than Suzi Fox can remember, since least terns nested on the Island’s Gulf beaches.
“I’m very excited,” said Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, describing 26 terns that have paired off and laid eggs in nests on the sand beach in an undisclosed, staked-off location.
The bird species is threatened and protected by state and federal law.
A least tern nesting colony was unsuccessful in 2013 across from Bradenton Beach City Hall, she said, recalling that the last successful nesting colony was 15 or 16 years ago at Bean Point.
Since then, a few pairs have sporadically nested on AMI, only to have their nests destroyed by cats, dogs and wild predators such as raccoons.
When the chicks hatch, they will be able to hide under palettes that will be placed in their nesting area to keep them safer from bird predators, including the ubiquitous osprey, she said.
People can also cause nests to fail. Some nests are abandoned when beachgoers, often children, chase birds, exposing the eggs to the heat and predators.
Parent birds need to rest and conserve energy to find food, even if they are not sitting on a nest, Fox said.
“If everyone could just go the extra mile and help us get these eggs off to a good start,” she said, asking beachgoers to steer clear of birds on the beach, especially if they’re screeching or are in posted nesting areas, and keep pets off the beach, which is the law in Manatee County.
Fox credits the larger nesting area created by the beach renourishment that was completed this spring for attracting the birds.
“It’s great news,” Fox said, “for a change.”