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SCCF Takes Part in Winter Shorebird Survey

February 21, 2023

This month, SCCF staff and volunteers participated in the 15th annual Florida Winter Shorebird Survey, documenting nearly 3,000 shorebirds and seabirds over two days.

A collaborative effort of the Florida Shorebird Alliance, this survey of shorebirds and seabirds in Florida aims to gain a better understanding of their winter distributions. SCCF and island partners have participated in the count since 2010.  

“Data collected from this survey will be useful in determining important wintering sites and assessing long-term trends in wintering populations and distributions,” said Shorebird Technician Aaron White. “This information will also help guide current and future conservation strategies, especially for threatened species in our state.”

In addition to Sanibel and Captiva, SCCF coordinates with partners to survey multiple routes at nearby Bunche Beach in Fort Myers, which offers critical tidal flat habitat for thousands of shorebirds. Species that use the beach include federally threatened piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) and red knots (Calidris canutus).  

“Among the many birds counted, staff were happy to find some regular winter resident piping plovers, including one individual from the endangered Great Lakes population,” said Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht. “Known as ‘Big’ by the researchers who banded her, this bird hatched in 2017 at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and winters each year at Bunche Beach. She was spotted with another regular wintering plover, ‘Green Flag N6V,’ who was banded as an adult in 2019 at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.”

In total, the SCCF shorebird team counted 2,851 birds across Sanibel and Captiva. 

Top 5 species of 2023:

  1. Laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)
  2. Royal tern (Thalasseus maximus)
  3. Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis)
  4. Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
  5. Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)

Top 5 species of the past 10 years: 

    1. Laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)
    2. Sanderling (Calidris alba)
    3. Royal tern (Thalasseus maximus)
    4. Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis)
    5. Willet (Tringa semipalmata)

“Noticeably, there are no shorebirds inside the top 5 species this year; only seabird species,” White said. “The exact cause of this decline is unknown, though possible factors include red tide conditions and heavy equipment on the beach for ongoing hurricane restoration. In addition, lower than normal tides — associated with the full moon — exposed large mud flats in San Carlos Bay, which attracted thousands of shorebirds.”

This year’s numbers were consistent with the past 10 years of winter shorebird survey data, which has recorded an average of 2,499 individuals per year. 


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