Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

It's the Terns' Turn at Beach; Endangered Birds Are Nesting South of Vilano Bridge

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

It's the Terns' Turn at Beach; Endangered Birds Are Nesting South of Vilano Bridge

Article excerpt

Byline: Maggie FitzRoy

VILANO BEACH -- People who drive on the beach south of Vilano Bridge this summer need to be aware they are sharing the area with an endangered species.

Least terns, small white-and-black sea birds with orange beaks, have laid about 90 nests along a stretch of beach where driving is usually allowed.

Authorities have roped off three large sections of Porpoise Point, the beach that wraps around from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway, because the birds are easily disturbed by human interference.

Signs have been posted forbidding access to marked areas through August.

"We know it's a popular area," said Joy Hill, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "People like to come out and play in the dunes. It's only for a couple of months that we are asking people to stay out of these areas."

The sea birds nest in shallow scratches of bare sand. It takes 21 days for the eggs to hatch and three weeks before the chicks are ready to fly.

When frightened, adults terns fly off the nests, leaving the sand-colored eggs exposed to the sun and larger birds, such as laughing gulls and crows.

With the busy July Fourth weekend just a week away, people need to be aware of the damage they can do, as well as the fines they may face for failing to heed the warning signs.

The terns are endangered in Florida partly because of disturbances on the beach, said biologist Alex Kropp, who drove to Porpoise Point from the commission's Ocala office Friday for a bird survey.

Kropp said the terns have adapted to natural predators and challenges that include raccoons, feral cats and hurricanes.

"But they have not adapted to getting run over by vehicles," Kropp said.

Only six or seven colonies of least terns have been seen this summer along the Atlantic Coast in Florida, although others have been found nesting on top of gravel rooftops, he said.

The only other least tern colony in St. …

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