It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane. No, It’s A Human Chain
By: Donna Malloy
You can look from a distance, but don’t touch. Signs posted around the roped off perimeter of the black skimmers’ nesting area warns trespassers that disturbing their nests can cause young chicks to be abandoned if the parents are scared off. It’s also a federal offense.
Protected behind this restricted area, a colony of “approximately 200 black skimmers” have burrowed their eggs in the sand, according to Michelle Simoneau, who spearheads both the marketing and public relations for the Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores. “We have the largest colony of black skimmers in Pinellas County” Simoneau continued.
Both parents take turns incubating their 4-5 brown-blotched eggs, careful never to leave their nests unattended. Once a natural predator, such as a laughing gull, attacks a “scoop” of black skimmers, the skimmers have been known to relocate to safer beach breeding areas.
The good news is that once a year, on July 4th, bird lovers can get a rare, close-up view of both the parents and their chicks while also protecting them. The Seabird Sanctuary, working in tandem with the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Audubon Society, are asking for volunteers, otherwise known as bird stewards, to form a human chain around the colony of black skimmers as they have in previous years.
This is how it works. Once the fireworks start booming on July 4th, the black skimmer parents’ natural instinct is to flee. Frightened, they abandon their chicks, leaving the chicks alone and vulnerable. By forming a human circle around the colony, the birds are less likely to “fly the coop” and are forced to stay and protect their chicks.
Volunteering for hourly shifts under beach umbrellas, this experience promises to be a memorable one. According to Vickie Churchill, volunteer coordinator for the Seabird Sanctuary, “it’s not unusual for the skimmers to swoop down on us” to defend their territory, much like a blue jay.
From April thru July, baby bird season, the Sanctuary receives between 25-35 injured birds daily. In the last several months, there has been “a decline of volunteers,” according to Simoneau, to help feed and care for all the birds.
“People don’t realize that some injured birds have to be fed around the clock, sometimes every two hours” stated Churchill. Anyone interested in volunteering their time to the Sanctuary should call Simoneau at: (727)391-2473.
“We’d like the whole community to come together for this event” says Simoneau. The Seabird Sanctuary welcomes both novice and seasoned ornithologists to participate in this once a year opportunity. Their address is: 18328 Gulf Boulevard, Indian Shores, FL 33785. And while visiting the Sanctuary, please stop and say hello to “Jeff” the American Crow who can say: “Hello….it’s a crow” and also “New Jay,” the blue jay who “meows” like a cat. But remember, birds bite, so don’t put your hands in any cage or try to pet any birds walking past
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