Wading Bird Nesting In Key U.S. Area Plummets 39 Percent Below 10-Year Average

Friday, January 11, 2013
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
- photo by Owen Deutsch

One of the nation’s largest and most important wading bird breeding areas – south Florida, which includes the Everglades National Park – has seen wading bird nesting plummet to levels 39 percent below ten-year averages, according to a new report by the South Florida Water Management District. This weather-induced decline bucks a trend dating to 1985 of growing bird populations in South Florida as a result of restoration of water flows in the Everglades, and reaffirms the need for speeding completion of the project.

The report says that an estimated 26,395 wading bird nests were initiated throughout south Florida during the 2012 nesting season which constitutes a 39% decline relative to the decadal average, and a 66% decline relative to the 77,505 nests for 2009, which was the best nesting year on record in south Florida since the 1940s. While the 2012 number is comparable to that of 2011 (26,452) and 2010 (21,885), it is the third consecutive year of relatively poor nesting effort in south Florida.

"These numbers are alarming because we are talking about extremely important bird breeding grounds on a national level and we’re looking at three years of poor breeding success,” said Kacy Ray, Beach Nesting Bird Conservation officer for American Bird Conservancy, one of the nation’s leading bird conservation organizations. “Restoring water flows in the Everglades will re-establish prey production and availability across the landscape that, in turn, will support the return of large successful wading bird colonies to the traditional rookeries downstream.”

All species of wading birds suffered reduced nest numbers relative to the past ten years, but the extent of the decrease varied among species. Of particular concern are nesting failures of the endangered Wood Stork which declined 44%; White Ibises (39%) and Snowy Egrets (56%) also suffered significant declines. There was also limited nesting by Little Blue Herons and Tricolored Herons (only 89 and 412 nests, respectively), which continues a steep and steady decline in nesting activity for these two species during the past eight years.

The federally Endangered Wood Stork fared particularly poorly and it is thought that all 820 nests failed or were abandoned. By contrast, anecdotal observations suggested that Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and White ibises in ENP were relatively successful. Another region that experienced poor nesting success was Lake Okeechobee where most colonies experienced complete or extensive nest failure.

This contrasts with long-term trends showing population increases for Wood Storks, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, White Ibis, Small White Heron, Great Blue Heron, and Roseate Spoonbill. Wading bird breeding patterns in south Florida are driven largely by hydrology through its influence on the production of prey and their vulnerability to predation. The 2012 breeding season was preceded by several drought years followed by a relatively wet season. Such conditions generally limit the production of small fishes that the birds feed upon.

“To restore and manage for wading bird populations in the Everglades, the right amount of water at the right time and the right place is needed to optimize the availability of aquatic prey species (small fishes and crayfish). The long-term monitoring programs in this report (both avian and prey related) are critical to this end,” said Mark Cook of the South Florida Water Management District. “We need to know what’s happening, why it’s happening and what’s working if restoration efforts are to be targeted effectively. These programs have made considerable advancements in our knowledge of wading bird ecology in recent years, although much still remains to be learnt about getting the water right for the birds.”


Appalachian Trail Produces Deer Poacher And Lost Dog

TWRA wildlife officers working along the Appalachian Trail in the Cherokee National Forest near Butler charged a hunter with violations related to illegal deer hunting, then rescued a lost family pet in the same area.  Carter County Wildlife Officer Dennis Ward has documented illegal ATV tracks on Iron Mountain for several years, and while scouting out the area this year, ... (click for more)

Drought-Induced Peril Prompts Rescue Of Endangered Fish

The fishes that live in headwater streams are like the scrappy underdogs of the aquatic world. They’ve adapted to hang tough in low-oxygen conditions and to make it through the occasional drought. But even Rocky Balboa couldn’t go 15 rounds — let alone months at a stretch — without the occasional water break. Thanks to a drought of historic proportions, the few creeks ... (click for more)

Lawsuit Says Girl Received Severe Traumatic Brain Injury In Woodmore Bus Wreck

A new lawsuit in the tragic Woodmore Elementary School bus wreck said one girl on the bus suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Attorneys Joseph Fried and Michael Goldberg of Fried Rogers Goldberg LLC filed a lawsuit in Hamilton County Circuit Court on behalf of the minor daughter of Shanquatta Byrd. The bus driver, Johnthony Walker, was transporting 37 students from ... (click for more)

Officer Who Was Shot Returned Fire; Is Recovering Well; Shooter Still On Loose

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said Monday morning that the officer who was shot three times on Thursday is recovering well.   Chief Fletcher said the officer was wearing a bullet-proof vest and one bullet hit the vest, which protected him during the shooting.  The officer was able to return fire, although Chief Fletcher would not comment on how many bullets ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Couldn't Manage Public Education

I have been reading the buzz about Signal Mountain and other small municipalities considering a move to form their own school district within their municipal boundaries.  It is quite the comedy hour considering the notion that small cities that for decades could not even manage small sewer systems or 911 districts, are somehow going to do a better job with public education ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Abolish Bail For Poor

Our terribly overcrowded Hamilton County Jail may get some help from an unsuspected corner – the Obama administration is tackling the fact that right now over 450,000 people are in our country’s jails because they are too poor to pay for bail. It is a violation of the Constitution to “punish people for their poverty.” As the Eighth Amendment provides, “… excessive bail ought not ... (click for more)