• Florida Sandhill Cranes Threatened by Development

    On the west side of Duval County there are tracts of still-undeveloped land, including some large wetland areas, known as Cecil Commerce Center North. This area is part of the former Naval Air Station Cecil Field which is now owned by the City of Jacksonville. The City has declared Cecil Commerce Center to be “a significant, long-term economic development asset to the City of Jacksonville,” and plans are underway to substantially develop this area.

    The recently built FL-23, a toll road connecting I-10 to Blanding Boulevard south of Orange Park, has brought additional traffic into the area, resulting in life-threatening hazards to the wildlife that rely on these wetlands for their survival.

    Photo of Sandhill Crane family crossing New World Avenue by Jeffrey HillWe recently learned that Florida Sandhill Cranes, which are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and are listed as Threatened by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule, are nesting in wetland areas between New World Avenue and FL 23. Unfortunately, traffic on New World Avenue is increasing, and some of the cranes attempting to cross the road to feed on the other side have been hit and killed.

    It is a conundrum. Two major businesses currently have distribution centers on this road and more developments are in the works. Distribution of goods and jobs are both important to our economy and wellbeing. Still, the City is allowing building on previously undeveloped land, sometimes on wetlands; part of a diminishing amount of land that the cranes and other wetland birds find suitable for nesting. We must find a way to balance the requirements of nature with the needs of people.

    As development continues in this area and other parts of Duval County, we must let our elected representatives know that care must be taken and the needs of nature considered. Wetlands are important to our area, just as are business, jobs, and housing. Although the development plans for Cecil Commerce Center North are already finalized, we will be calling on you, our bird-loving community, to help inform the City about the consequences of potential lands lost to future development. Please consider contacting your Jacksonville City Council representative to share your concerns. Not sure what Council District you're in? Use this interactive map to find your district.

    In the meantime, we will be working to create more awareness of the plight of these Sandhill Cranes and to come up with a solution that may help slow down the traffic on New World Avenue to protect this threatened species.

    --Carolyn Antman, Conservation Director for Duval County


     
  • Fun Things To Do at Home

    With so many of us sticking close to home these days, it can be easy to get bored and feel like "there's nothing to do!" Well, we're here for you with some great ways to make your "at home" time much more fun and interesting!

     

    With all of the resources available online for learning, relaxation, and sheer fun, it's easy to make the most of your time at home!

    --Carol Bailey-White, Vice President


     
  • "Best of Us" Virtual Photo Sharing Project

    Best of Us Virtual Photo Sharing Project Cover ImageWe were sorry that we couldn't host our annual "Best of Us" Photo Sharing and Potluck Dinner last month due to the worldwide health crisis. In lieu of that event, we invited our members to share their best bird photos from the past year, and they did NOT disappoint.

    We received some stunning contributions that truly showcase our members' photographic talents as well as some fascinating bird species that we don't normally see in Northeast Florida. It was a pleasure to put them all together into this virtual photo sharing video. Enjoy!

    --Carol Bailey-White, Vice President


     
  • It's Baby Season in Northeast Florida!

    Late spring and early summer is nesting season for not only Sandhill Cranes but also nesting shorebirds, Eastern Bluebirds, and Swallow-tailed Kites, to name just a few. Here are some "baby season" updates:

    Nesting Shorebirds Need Your Help

    Photo of Royal Tern with chick by Carol Bailey-WhiteThis time of year, shorebirds like Royal Terns, Least Terns, American Oystercatchers, and Wilson’s Plovers nest on our Northeast Florida beaches. Many nest in the dunes, but some species build their nests right on the beach, and all nesting shorebirds are extremely vulnerable to disturbances like excessive noise, people or pets getting too close to nest sites, or predators attracted by food waste left behind by careless beachgoers. Many of the bird species that depend on these beach areas to raise their families are threatened or endangered, so it’s critical for us to take extra care when we are at the beach this summer to avoid possible disturbances to nesting shorebirds.

    Here are some things you can do to help these birds survive:

    • Stay well away from posted shorebird nesting and feeding areas
    • Keep your pets on a leash, and don’t let pets or children run into the dunes or “flush” birds resting on the beach
    • Take your trash with you and dispose of fishing line properly
    • Don’t feed birds or other wildlife at the beach
    • Avoid noisy activities like beach games, loud music, or fireworks near nesting areas

     

    It could mean the difference between life and death for these vulnerable birds. Learn more here.

    --Carol Bailey-White, Vice President

     

    Bluebirds! Bluebirds! And more Bluebirds!

    Photo of Eastern Bluebird Eggs by Charlene WestAs reported here earlier this year, Audubon volunteer Charlene West has been monitoring several Eastern Bluebird nest boxes in North Jacksonville. She’s had all sorts of adventures including finding snakeskin in a nest and finding eggs and chicks of other birds in the boxes. She started seeing eggs by March 15 and hatchlings by April 5 (Eastern Bluebird eggs incubate for 13-16 days). By mid-April there were chicks everywhere and by the end of April many had left the nest. Bluebirds fledge around 18-19 days after hatching. In all, Charlene has seen 37 Eastern Bluebird fledglings.

    Now the parents are on their second round, with more eggs and already some new hatchlings! And not only Eastern Bluebird families are benefitting: one box even has at least three Tufted Titmouse chicks in it. Just goes to show how useful it can be to put up nesting boxes. Many thanks to Charlene for watching and reporting on the Bluebirds for us!

    To learn more about Eastern Bluebirds, check out the Florida Bluebird Society.

     

    Nesting Swallow-tailed Kites

    Photo of Swallow-tailed Kite nestling by Carly WainwrightWe all love to see magnificent Swallow-tailed Kites soaring above us in the spring and early summer, but did you know that some of them actually nest in Northeast Florida? One local Auduboner has been lucky enough to follow a pair of Swallow-tails from the beginning of the season as they began to build their nest, mate, and raise two healthy chicks. The whole process started in late March and the chicks are now on the verge of fledging. It has been an exciting spring. She has witnessed the parents sharing time on the nest, bringing food to the chicks, and other Swallow-tails helping the parents defend the nest from hawks, owls, and crows. A pair of Mississippi Kites have also shown up at the site.

    This site is on private property, and for the sake of the owners and the birds, please understand that we cannot give out any information about the exact location of the nesting site.

    For more information about Swallow-tailed Kites, check out Audubon's Swallow-tailed Kite page, and visit the website of ARCI (the Avian Research and Conservation Institute).

    --Carolyn Antman, Conservation Director for Duval County


     
  • Wild Birds Need Your Help!

    Snail Kite by Shane CarrollA recent study of bird populations in North America published in the journal Science revealed that nearly 3 billion fewer wild birds are alive today compared to avian abundance in 1970, a loss of 29%! In addition, Audubon's new report, Survival by Degrees, estimates that two-thirds of North American birds (389 species) are at increasing risk of extinction from global temperature rise.

    In the face of these threats it's easy to lose hope, but we want to focus on what we as individuals, families, and communities can do to turn these trends around. In the past, some species have been nearly eliminated by hunting or pesticides, yet conservation measures (like eliminating DDT) helped these populations to recover, so we still have a chance to bring birds back from the brink!

    Here are twelve things YOU can do to give birds a better chance of survival:

    1. Vote for candidates who place environmental issues front and center. Public policy has a huge impact on survival of the bird species we love.
    2. Stop using single use plastics, especially straws, plastic bags, and balloons. Plastic pollution by Carol Bailey-WhiteThese items can end up in our waterways where they can be mistaken for food by birds, fish, and sea turtles, often killing them. Bring reusable bags to the grocery store. Refuse straws and bring your own take-out containers when dining out. Dispose of cigarette butts properly - butts are the most common trash found on the beaches during cleanups, and the filters contain plastic. (Another reason to quit smoking.)
    3. Keep cats indoors - they will live longer and healthier lives. Support measures to eliminate feral cat colonies over time. There are 60-100 million free-ranging cats in the US, and they are non-native predators against which our wild birds have no natural defenses. It is estimated that cats kill 1 billion birds and 6 billion mammals each year in the US alone. Outdoor cats typically have a very short life span and can transmit diseases to humans and wildlife. Audubon supports the American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors program.
    4. Use traps for a rodent problem instead of rat poison, many forms of which move up the food chain to also kill eagles, hawks, and owls, which eat rodents.
    5. Swear off herbicides and pesticides and reduce or eliminate fertilizer use in your yard. A chemical-free yard provides safe food sources for birds and other pollinators. Organic farms provide the same benefits on an agricultural scale. Pesticides containing neonicotinoids are directly responsible for the disastrous decline of bees, monarch butterflies, and other beneficial insects. We are joined by other organizations including the Garden Club of America, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Florida Wildflower Foundation in opposing the use of them.
    6. Plant native plants in your yard, especially fruit and nut bearing trees and berry producing shrubs, which are an excellent food source for birds and pollinators. An easy way to learn what will work in our yards here in northeast Florida is to use Audubon's Plants for Birds website. Go to the native plants database and type in your zip code, and you will get a list of plants for our area, including pictures for easy identification.
    7. Maintain a brush pile so birds have a place to hide from predators.
    8. If you can do it safely, let dead trees stand in your landscape as nesting sites for cavity nesting birds such as woodpeckers. They are also a source of insects which provide protein for birds.
    9. Keep fresh water readily available. In a drought, it’s easier for birds to find food than water.
    10. Reduce deadly bird collisions with glass by keeping screens up year-round. Or, install feather guards which interrupt reflections. Window decals to reduce bird strikes are also available from several vendors, including Wild Birds Unlimited.
    11. Enroll your company in Audubon’s Lights Out Program, which promotes safe migration for birds through urban areas by taking actions such as turning off outside lights on buildings and using window shades during nighttime work. There are currently 30 cities participating in this program throughout the US already and we hope to add Jacksonville to that list soon. At this time there are no cities in Florida that participate in this program and we would like to be the first.
    12. Buy shade grown, bird-friendly coffee. Not only will you be helping small farmers in South and Central America use good growing practices but you will also help our bird species that migrate there in the winter. It is easily obtainable online and several local retailers carry it as well. Ask your local coffee shop to stock it.

     

    If everyone would do at least one of these things now, such as bringing your own reusable bags when shopping, keeping your cat indoors, stop using chemicals on your lawn, or stop using plastic straws, we can have a positive impact on the survival of the birds we love. Doing nothing guarantees that nothing will change.

    Chapter president Jody Willis and Duval County conservation chair Carolyn Antman appeared on WJCT's First Coast Connect radio show on October 30, 2019 - read the story and listen to the program here.