Project Colony Watch

  • Background
  • Goal
  • A bit of history
  • The 2015 season
  • Joining Colony Watch / Contact
  • Background

    Along the Florida Gulf coast, more than 25 species of birds gather to nest in “colonies,” or groups, that may total a few dozen to many thousand breeding pairs. Colonies are typically located on islands or in marshes and swamps over water, to provide isolation from terrestrial predators and other disturbance. Habitat losses associated with a variety of human activities, and a rapidly growing human population in Florida, have resulted in the destruction of some colony sites and the disturbance of many more. In many cases, even unintended disturbance may cause the mortality of hundreds of eggs or young. Coastal colonies are especially vulnerable to disturbance because of their accessibility to beach-goers and recreational boaters.

    Colonies are sensitive to disturbance because many birds gather to literally "lay their eggs in the same basket." This feature, however, enables fairly effective protective measures to be designed and carried out. Hundreds, or even thousands, of nests can be protected at once. Further, the eye-catching spectacle of so many birds all nesting together offers an excellent opportunity to educate the public about wildlife, and the need to preserve and manage wildlife habitat, both at the nesting site itself and at nearby wetland foraging areas.
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    The goal of Project Colony Watch is to protect the important breeding colonies of Florida's coasts through the assistance and involvement of Audubon chapters and other volunteers. Colony Watch volunteers will use the colonies and the birds themselves as powerful educational devices to build the constituency for wildlife in their local communities. Remember, people love wildlife — especially birds — because they are colorful, active, and familiar. The project will attract attention, and the birds themselves will be their own best ambassadors. Project Colony Watch is a way for knowledgeable, involved individuals to ensure a future for wildlife in Florida. By protecting these colonial nesting sites, we can keep common birds common and increase populations of birds which have been declining recently.
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    Historical Background on Wading Birds in South Florida

    About one hundred years ago a large majority the wading birds were killed almost to the point of extinct due to plume hunting. The saving grace for these birds has been The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This act saved them from being eradicated from our planet.

    Another turning point for the wading birds was the Everglades being drained by flood control. A lot of Florida's wading birds moved northward from the Everglades as their habitat was being ruined. The Everglades is the only subtropical wetland habitat of this kind in the United States. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was put into place to try to restore the Everglades back to its original important habitat.

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    The 2015 Season

    The wading birds started to gather at their colonies later this year. The wading birds go to their nesting colonies based on the water levels. The water levels need to be perfect for the birds to raise their families each year.

    This year's nesting season was good in many ways. Some colonies had species nesting there that had not nested there before. Some colonies had more of certain species than were there in the past. There was plenty of food to feed their young. For many species they were able to raise one or two more chicks than usual in the nest.

    The torrential rains that we had for a month fortunately did not affect the wading birds. Basically the nesting season was over when the rains started.

    As far as finding new-to-us colonies, the last two years we have found five colonies: three mixed wading bird colonies and two strictly Yellow-crowned Night Heron Colonies.

    Thanks to all of the volunteers who help monitor and protect these 20 inland wading bird colonies in Hillsborough County.

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    Joining Colony Watch

    OK, you're interested - what's next? Click here to access How to Join Colony Watch. Click here to access the Project Colony Watch Handbook from Audubon of Florida. The handbook has information on the real science that is gathered by the volunteers and how to gather it. There is also a large list of Agency Resources. Click here to access the Census and the Night Time Roost forms.
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