There are four species of birds that nest on beaches in Collier County. They, like all beach-nesting birds, must compete with humans–who like to visit the beach too–for habitat in which to nest. This has lead to declines over the years in many species, so it is important to share the beach with birds.
There is some simple information about each Collier species on this page, as well as links to two excellent resources that stewards are encouraged to read. For the avid birder, there is also the Birds of North America. For $5, you can purchase a month’s access to this excellent resource, which gives up-to-date and in-depth information about all species of birds in North America.
The Black Skimmer is a member of the tern family, but it looks nothing like a tern! They are relatively large, black and white birds with an outrageous orange bill. They use this bill–the only bill in the bird world with the lower mandible being longer than the upper–to “skim” for fish. They are often to be seen early in the morning or late in the day gliding just above the water along the Gulf shore, in Tigertail Lagoon, and indeed throughout coastal Collier County.
Black Skimmers nest faithfully in the Big Marco Pass CWA, and often no where else in Collier County. They are our latest beach-nesting bird, initiating their clutches in mid- to late May. Though they nest near or even among the Least Terns, they do not get along very well. They are known to take tern chicks, and that is one reason why it’s important not to disturb the colony: Tern chicks might run into the skimmers’ area, and that could be bad news for the terns. When they are done nesting and their chicks have fledged, Black Skimmers depart for points south where they winter and rest up for another nesting season “up north.”
The Least Tern is our smallest tern, but one of the most charming. Its yellow bill and black cap make it a dapper-looking creature, but it often spoils the effect by staring at its feet. After wintering in the Caribbean and Central and South America, Least Terns arrive in Florida and begin nesting in April. They form colonies ranging from a handful of birds to hundreds.
Least Terns feed by punge-diving for fish, and advertise their success with a high-pitched squeaky call, as though they were rubber ducks being squeezed. They can be seen throughout coastal Collier County, and when they can’t find a suitable beach–competition with humans for beach habitat is a major hurdle for the Least Tern–they will nest on gravel-covered rooftops. The next time you’re at the Coastland Center Mall in the summer, look up, you might see one!
Snowy Plovers have been declining in Florida for the past several decades. They occasionally nest in Collier County, so unlike our other beach-nesting species they are not a sure thing every year. For example, in 2010, no Snowy Plovers were found; however, there were pairs in Lee County.
Unlike skimmers and terns, plovers nest by themselves, establishing territories that they will defend against other birds, as well as against humans. If a predator, or a human, approaches their nest or chick they perform a broken wing display, in which they pretend to be injured in order to lure you away from their eggs or chicks. Also unlike skimmers and terns, whose chicks wait impatiently for adults to bring fish back to them, plover chicks feed themselves from day one by picking up insects and other invertebrates from the wrack line on the shore. The parents are always hovering nearby and guide the chicks around the beach, from the shore to the dunes, in order to keep them safe.
While the Snowy Plover is smaller, lighter, and more dainty, the Wilson’s Plover is larger, with darker back and wings. They are especially recognizable by their large, heavy bill. They love to use that bill to catch the ubiquitous fiddler crabs. They charge after one, grab it, and start bashing it against the ground. They are often to be seen feeding at Tigertail Lagoon.
Wilson’s Plovers are regular nesters in Collier County. Along with the Snowy Plover, they are the earliest beach-nesters, starting before the Least Terns, but they are often still raising downy chicks as the terns hatch their eggs. They often nest near or among Least Terns, but they must dodge the wrathful little terns, which mob anything that moves in their colony. Plover chicks can be seen darting to cover to avoid a peck from an adult tern. However, the plovers do benefit from the added protection that scores of angry little terns provide against predators such as gulls, wading birds, and mammals.