Three Bird Species Nested At Amelia Island State Park
Those entering Amelia Island State Park on this northeast Florida barrier island see a big brown sign as they drive into the park (pictured below). It reminds the public that this state park is a sensitive bird nesting area seasonally and shows the count of threatened beach-nesting baby birds that fledged during the 2022 breeding season (now concluded).
The shoreline of Amelia Island State Park (AISP) extends along the Nassau Sound and Atlantic Ocean. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), has designated AISP a “Critical Wildlife Area” (CWA), as are the Nassau Sound Islands.
The FWC describes the state’s “Critical Wildlife Area” or CWA designation as follows:
“Discrete sites, such as mangrove islands or sandbars, where species gather daily or seasonally for essential activities, such as breeding, feeding or resting.” The FWC also states “The FWC establishes CWAs at sites where there is already documentation of human disturbances interfering with these activities.”
Beach goer awareness and consideration of all birds at the shore is important to their long-term survival, not just during beach-nesting season, but all year long.
Beach Driving Within State Park
Amelia Island State Park is one of few exceptions in Florida’s state park system when it comes to allowing the public to drive vehicles onto the beach (especially considering Amelia Island State Park is a CWA site – “Critical Wildlife Area”).
Always use caution when visiting the park and avoid the marked bird nesting areas. However, birds don’t know barriers and may cross sandy driving lanes. Please do watch carefully for chicks and parents chasing after baby birds during nesting season.
Amelia Island State Park Visitation
How many people visit Amelia Island State Park each year? The numbers fluctuate annually, but for the most recent full year, the total number of visitors to Amelia Island State Park during calendar year 2021 was 145,305 (according to data published by Florida State Parks).
One has to wonder how beach-nesting bird fledgling counts would be impacted, if, in the future, the state ever decided to ban driving on the beach within Amelia Island State Park. Due to logistics, park visitation numbers likely would drop substantially. Accessing this park’s shoreline located along its Atlantic Ocean side would require a very long walk carrying gear, an area popular for those utilizing 4WD vehicles.
Don’t Flush Resting Birds
Beaches are heavily used for recreation. Visitors — kids and adults alike — regularly disturb resting birds on beaches, not just here at Amelia Island’s seashore, but elsewhere around Florida and the world’s beaches. Besides resting or nesting, many bird species forage for food along the shore. Some people don’t realize that human disturbance of seabirds and shorebirds on the beach — sending birds soaring — is detrimental to their survival. Please keep back a distance when encountering resting beach birds, don’t get close enough to send them flying.
In the Sunshine State, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, (FWC), has four bird species listed as “Florida Imperiled Beach-Nesting Birds”:
- American Oystercatcher
- Snowy Plover
- Least Tern
- Black Skimmer
From the list above, those who frequent Amelia Island’s beachfront, even on cold winter days, are likely most familiar with black skimmers. With their unusual-looking bill and black and white plumage, they’re not a bird that goes unnoticed. As described by the FWC, “The lower part of the bill is longer than the top, which is important because they use their bill to skim along the top of the water to catch fish, for which they are aptly named.”
Black skimmers, a seabird, spend winter months resting along the Amelia Island seashore. Besides Amelia Island State Park, they often are seen congregating around the island’s popular Main Beach Park in Fernandina and at Fort Clinch State Park on the beach near the jetty.
While the Black Skimmers are often seen here at the beach, by comparison, it would be unusual to spot an American Oystercatcher along the Amelia Island seashore. (The last we sighted was long ago back in the year 2011 on Amelia Island’s north end, pictured below).
Bird observers have a better chance of spotting an Oystercatcher on nearby barrier islands — Cumberland Island, GA (a largely wild island that became a National Seashore in 1972), and a bit south, Little Talbot Island (an island without development, its entirety a Florida state park).
Volunteering Opportunity — Bird Stewards
Those interested in volunteering to help birds at the beach can participate in “Bird Steward” programs that currently exist across the state of Florida. Here in northeast Florida, those interested in finding out more about becoming a “Bird Steward” in one of the following counties — Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, & Flagler — can send an eMail to Audubon’s Chris.Farrell @audubon.org .
Learn much more about Florida’s beach birds online at the Florida Shorebird Alliance and Florida Audubon websites.
During the summer of 2022, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved new “Species Conservation Measures and Permitting Guidelines” for these four beach-nesting bird species — the American oystercatcher, snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer. All four species of Florida’s state-listed beach-nesting birds are included in one set of guidelines, available at MyFWC.com/speciesguidelines. The approved new guidelines will take effect in September of 2023. The intervening period will be used to recruit and train new Imperiled Beach-nesting Bird Permitted Monitors, develop outreach and training products, and to raise awareness with affected stakeholders.
Editorial note — This article was updated/revised October 20, 2022.