Hands Around the Skimmers on Fourth of July
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07/02/10 Andrea Lypka
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Black Skimmers are birds whose populations are dwindling. These red-billed birds come back every year to nest on Indian Shores and they nest just steps away from the water. But during nesting season their life is tougher in their home.

The biggest enemies of these birds are humans. Michelle Simoneau, a spokesperson for the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, says last month a film crew damaged black skimmer nests on Shell Key Island while they were filming. “A helicopter came down really low and scared the colony and somehow some of the eggs got broken. The colony was disturbed. I am not sure at this point what kind of recovery has been made but it has definitely affected the success of that colony,” she said.

The nest disturbance on Shell Key Island remains under investigation and volunteers keep a keen eye on the colony behind the sanctuary on Indian Shores. This one is one of the largest colonies in Pinellas County. The birds have scraped out small shallow nests in the sand where they have laid their eggs. Simoneau helps to watch over a Black Skimmers colony on Indian Shores.

“Well, as you can see, we love our birds here at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary we have got one of the largest colonies. I believe the largest count was over 300. We have got some adorable baby chick running all over the place,” she said.

The sand colored freckled chicks and eggs face predators-- gulls, crows, and humans. Simoneau says that as the human population took over the beaches, these birds have faced even more danger.

“As you can see there is trash that is blown into the area. One nest has bottle over it. A beach chair blew in over the colony. We ask our neighbors to be considerate of all living creatures,” Simoneau said.

This roped-off colony is a couple of steps from the water. If the oil spill or tar balls were to hit this beach, it would wipe out colonies along the shore.

“We’ve got shorebirds, it’s baby season all up and down the coast. Oil is definitely affecting all kinds of sea life and shore life,” she said.

Some volunteers and staff are rescuing birds in the Panhandle around the clock, but during nesting season the Sanctuary needs more volunteers.

“They are doing some great work. But it has put a strain on us here….we are in the middle of our busiest season. We sent some of our greatest folks up there and we want to do everything to help out,” Simoneau said.

Even though Indian Shores is heavily populated and small, Black Skimmers have felt at home on the beach at the Seabird Sanctuary for four years. These birds keep coming back to Indian Shores so what the volunteers are calling "Hands Around the Skimmers" turned into a tradition. Bird stewards are protecting this nesting area but they need more volunteers on the Fourth of July.

“Police have been hired. Volunteers from the Audubon Society and Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary come out and we do the hands around the skimmers,” Simoneau said.

The fireworks frighten the birds which will take off exposing the nests and endangering the eggs and the chicks.

“The little baby chicks start scampering and running all the way so we stand around the rope and carefully shoo them in the protected area,” she said.

For years, volunteers hold their hands to form a human rope to protect the baby chicks from predators.

The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary requests that volunteers arrive by 5 p.m. on Sunday and bring an umbrella and sunscreen.

For more information contact the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary or, call (727) 391-6211.

Photo Gallery about the Black Skimmer Colony in Indian Shores

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