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.”


Land Trust For Tennessee And Mountain Goat Trail Alliance Host Sneak-Peek Hike

The Land Trust for Tennessee and the Mountain Goat Trail Alliance are co-hosting  a summer hike to give locals a sneak peek of a soon-to-be protected property that adds 20 miles to the Mountain Goat Trail (MGT) project.  The hike will also celebrate the enhancement of local outdoor recreation, the conservation of our natural wonders and the way of life on the ... (click for more)

Crabtree Farms Offers Fall Gardening Workshop

In response to a growing interest in fall backyard gardening, local non-profit, Crabtree Farms is offering educational opportunities and affordable, healthy plant starts to help Chattanoogans grow their own food this fall.   “While most people are excited to plant their gardens in spring or summer, there is a growing number of people who realize that they can enjoy ... (click for more)

EPB Files With FCC To Expand TV, Phone, Internet Offerings Outside Electric Service Area

 EPB announced Thursday that it has filed a petition to the FCC "in an effort to respond to neighboring communities’ requests for access to the company’s gigabit enabled high-speed Internet service." Officials said, "EPB offers high-speed Internet access, video programming and voice services using a fiber optic communications network that allows the company to deliver these ... (click for more)

Black Creek Developers Say They "Followed The Rules" On $9 Million TIF: To Continue Project

The developers of the Black Creek project at Aetna Mountain said Thursday they "complied precisely by the rules when we applied for and received approval of the TIF district." Doug Stein said the group plans to continue on with the project, which he said earlier would include the creation of a small town on a huge undeveloped tract on the mountain above Black Creek (formerly ... (click for more)

Pickle Ball? - And Response

Collegedale has done some wonderful things for its residents.  The Greenway is a perfect example of money well spent on helping to give her residents the opportunity to improve their lives, at least from a health standpoint. Having taught at Wolftever Creek for a decade plus, I was fortunate to have opportunity to take my classes on walks from time to time.  It provided ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Say It Ain't So, Larry Joe!

Larry Joe Wheelon, the tainted horse trainer who was charged with 18 counts of aggravated animal cruelty when his barn was raided in April of 2013 and some animals were sored so badly that they could barely walk, finally went to a court hearing in Blount County on Wednesday and his steps toward Judge Tammy Harrington’s bench were decidedly heavy. My goodness, yours would have been ... (click for more)