NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- A least tern pair has been discovered nesting on Disappearing Island near Ponce Inlet. The birds were spotted May 14 by members of the Florida Shorebird Alliance’s Volusia Shorebird Partnership as they conducted a routine shorebird survey in the inlet.
Least terns weigh just over an ounce and have a wing span of about 20 inches. They have a grayish-white body with a black-capped head, narrow wings, yellow legs and a yellow bill. They nest on sandy beaches and rooftops in the southern U.S. and are aggressive in defending their nests.
According to Volusia County Environmental Specialist Jennifer Winters, additional nests may be found in the near future because other least terns were seen nearby and they tend to nest in groups.
Because least terns are protected by state and federal laws, the county’s Environmental Management Division has posted signs on Disappearing Island advising people to stay out of the posted area and keep their pets on a leash.
“Least terns can be easily disturbed by people and dogs,” Winters said. “If the adult birds are frightened, they may fly off and leave the eggs open to predation and prolonged sun exposure.”
Least tern eggs are also at risk because they are directly on the sand; they are well-camouflaged and easy to crush if stepped on. After the eggs hatch, the chicks will remain vulnerable for about a month until they learn how to fly.
“If you see people disturbing the nesting bird, gently let them know their actions may harm the bird,” Winters advised.
If people continue to disturb the birds, report their activities to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s wildlife alert hotline at 888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone, or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com. Residents can also report unposted nests to the hotline.
According to Winters, several dozen pairs of least terns nest in Volusia County each year. This nest is exceptional because it’s in a popular recreational site. Disappearing Island appears during low tide each day as the water recedes in the inlet between Ponce Inlet and New Smyrna Beach.
It is accessible only by boat. The birds have nested on a high, dry portion of the island that is not likely to become submerged.
For more information on shorebirds, visit www.myfwc.com/shorebirds, www.flshorebirdalliance.org or www.myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/imperiled/profiles/birds/least-tern.