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Colony Watch

Historical Background

About 100 years ago, a large majority the wading birds were hunted almost to the point of extinct for their fancy plumage. Another blow to wading birds was the systematic drainage of the Everglades for agriculture and flood control. The Everglades is the only subtropical wetland habitat of this kind in the United States. Many of south Florida's wading birds moved north as their habitat was being destroyed. The saving grace for these birds was The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which saved them from being extirpated from the United States, and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that was put into place in 2000 to try to restore the Everglades back to its original important ecological functions while still meeting the needs of the public.

​Today

Along the Florida Gulf coast, more than 25 species of birds gather to nest in “colonies,” or groups, that may constitute anywhere from a few dozen to many thousand breeding pairs. Colonies are typically located on islands or in marshes and swamps over water, to provide isolation from terrestrial predators and other disturbance. Habitat losses associated with a variety of human activities, and a rapidly growing human population in Florida, have resulted in the destruction of some colony sites and the disturbance of many more. In many cases, even unintended disturbance may cause the mortality of hundreds of eggs or young. Coastal colonies are especially vulnerable to disturbance because of their accessibility to beach-goers and recreational boaters.

Colonies are sensitive to disturbance because many birds gather to literally "lay their eggs in the same basket." This feature, however, enables fairly effective protective measures to be designed and carried out. Hundreds, or even thousands, of nests can be protected at once. Further, the eye-catching spectacle of so many birds all nesting together offers an excellent opportunity to educate the public about wildlife, and the need to preserve and manage wildlife habitat, both at the nesting site itself and at nearby wetland foraging areas.


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Goal

The goal of Project Colony Watch is to protect the important breeding colonies of Florida's coasts through the assistance and involvement of Audubon chapters and other volunteers. Colony Watch volunteers will use the colonies and the birds themselves as powerful educational devices to build the constituency for wildlife in their local communities. Remember, people love wildlife — especially birds — because they are colorful, active, and familiar. The project will attract attention, and the birds themselves will be their own best ambassadors. Project Colony Watch is a way for knowledgeable, involved individuals to ensure a future for wildlife in Florida. By protecting these colonial nesting sites, we can keep common birds common and increase populations of birds which have been declining recently.

 

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The 2015 Season

The wading birds started to gather at their colonies later this year. The wading birds go to their nesting colonies based on the water levels. The water levels need to be perfect for the birds to raise their families each year. This year's nesting season was good in many ways. Some colonies had species nesting there that had not nested there before. Some colonies had more of certain species than were there in the past. There was plenty of food to feed their young. For many species they were able to raise one or two more chicks than usual in the nest. The torrential rains that we had for a month fortunately did not affect the wading birds. Basically the nesting season was over when the rains started.

As far as finding new-to-us colonies, the last two years we have found five colonies: three mixed wading bird colonies and two strictly Yellow-crowned Night Heron Colonies. Thanks to all of the volunteers who help monitor and protect these 20 inland wading bird colonies in Hillsborough County.

 

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Joining Colony Watch

Contact Sandy Reed, Bird Protection Committee Chair, by email at sandy.reed@tampaaudubon.org to learn more about joining Project Colony Watch. Click HERE to access the Project Colony Watch Handbook from Audubon of Florida. The handbook has a large list of Agency Resources as well as information on the real science that is gathered by the volunteers and how to gather it. Click HERE to access the Census and the Night Time Roost forms.

 

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