Post-Ian Eagle and Shorebird Update
Bald Eagle Update
SCCF coordinates the monitoring of nine bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest structures across Sanibel, Captiva, and North Captiva. A team of dedicated volunteers help SCCF staff watch these nests October through May each nesting season and report all observations to Audubon Florida’s Eagle Watch database.
After Hurricane Ian, when it was safe and appropriate to do so, SCCF staff and volunteers visited each eagle nest site to determine the impacts of the storm on our island’s eagles. We are happy to report that all the birds are accounted for and remain in their territories. Most nest trees are still standing, though the landscape has changed drastically around them. The Australian pines where they nest were completely defoliated, and many surrounding trees were destroyed. Some eagles are busy rebuilding, while others appear to be reconsidering their nest location and may rebuild elsewhere.
”Unfortunately, our manmade eagle nesting platform was destroyed in the storm, and SCCF is working with partners to determine whether repairs or a replacement are feasible at this time,” said SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht. “Fortunately, the pair that used this nest has previously been observed maintaining a different nest structure nearby, and we are hopeful they will use that one. Bald eagles often maintain multiple nest structures and alternate between them.”
SCCF staff were able to conduct routine monthly shorebird surveys in October once immediate search and rescue operations began winding down. Although the beach looked quite different following the storm, there were still many birds to be seen. All typical shorebird species were observed, including sanderlings (Calidris alba), ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres), willets (Tringa semipalmata, and black-bellied plovers (Pluvialis squatarola). Additionally, many of the usual seabirds were seen such as laughing gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla), royal terns (Thalasseus maximus), and sandwich terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis). Staff even sighted several banded royal terns, including some regulars. These terns were banded by Virginia Tech researchers in 2019 as chicks at their nesting sites in Georgia.
”Since royal terns don’t reach reproductive maturity until 3 to 4 years of age, these individuals have been on Sanibel year-round since their first migration away from their natal nesting sites,” Albrecht said. “Knowing that these individuals have survived provides important data.”
Compared to the past five October shorebird surveys, 2022 saw a decrease in the number of species and total number of individuals compared to previous years, said SCCF Shorebird Technician Aaron White.
“We observed 24 species this year versus 30-plus in previous years, and about half as many individuals. Decreases mostly occurred with seabirds, most notably brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), laughing gulls, and sandwich terns,” White said. “There are many factors that could play into the decrease, and just because they aren’t here now doesn’t mean they are gone forever.”
In addition to a monthly shorebird survey covering the full length of of Sanibel’s Gulf beaches, the SCCF shorebird team continues to do twice-monthly surveys of Captiva as part of a permit requirement for a 2021 beach renourishment project. All species encountered on the surveys are recorded, with the target species being federally threatened piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) and red knots (Calidris canutus).
”On the initial October survey, four red knots were observed,” Albrecht said. “The island’s wintering red knots do not typically arrive until November or December, so staff will be on the lookout for them on future surveys.”