One of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the Americas, bird migration, is under way. Currently, millions upon millions of migratory birds are en route to rookeries up north, having taken flight from their southern winter grounds in Central and South America, the Caribbean and the southern United States. Bringing attention to this prehistoric and instinctual event in which more than 350 species of birds take flight, International Migratory Bird Day, a bi-annual event organized by the Environment for the Americas, an international nonprofit dedicated to “make bird conservation education available throughout the Western Hemisphere.” Celebrated on the second Saturday of May and October, Bird Day is designed to foster bird conservation through education and hands-on eco activities.
Bird Day, which now reaches more than 600 sites from Canada to Argentina with activities, will not be overlooked in Southwest Florida. The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve will be carrying the Paradise Coast Bird Day torch May 8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The unique estuarine, upland hammock and scrub environment of Rookery Bay has been the ancestral home for nearly 150 species of birds, many of which are migratory. As Southwest Florida moves into summer, least terns, black skimmers, and more birds that nest directly on shore are beginning to return to area beaches. Bird Day is not only a great way to celebrate these fantastic avian species, it is also an opportunity to raise awareness about these visiting birds, imparting the knowledge needed to safely share the beaches with our feathered neighbors.
- From 2 to 3:30 p.m., the Learning Center will screen the award-winning documentary Winged Migration. The touch Tank Exploration, 11 a.m. to 12 noon, will give visitors an opportunity to interact with the estuaries underwater residents, and some of the nesting bird’s favorite snacks. Admission is buy-one, get one; $5. For more information, visit rookerybay.org.
For those who cannot make it to the Rookery Bay for Bird Day, here are a few guidelines direct from the naturalists to help make this nesting season—April through August—a successful one:
- Avoid walking near dunes or beachside vegetation where eggs may be hidden.
- Keep your distance from any birds on the beach.
- Do not force birds to fly.
- Respect posted areas.
- Report violations to FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-3922.
- Keep pets leashed or consider leaving them at home.
- Never deploy fireworks at or near an active nesting area.
- Don’t leave any litter or food behind – this can attract nest predators.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and tackle some of the reserve’s self-guided nature trails for some in-the-field bird watching.
Not far from the learning center, the Snail Trail and Observation Platform gives hikers and birders a chance to walk through scrubland to the Henderson Creek, catching a glimpse of some of the year-round bird species still flitting around Rookery Bay.
Farther down Henderson Creek, near Shell Island Road, Trails Through Time, a series of four quarter-mile trails, gives visitors a chance to explore deeper into Rookery Bay without fully dropping off the grid.
The Shell Mound Trail, which starts at the field center, takes hikers along the mangrove-fringed shoreline. As the name suggests, the trail borders pre-Calusa middens and historical sites, with signage discussing the historical inhabitants to this land.
The Monument Point Trail begins near the end of the Shell Mound Trail (at the Shell Island Road boat ramp), and continues to the mouth of Henderson Creek. At the end of the line sits a large stone monument dedicated to the children that helped raise the initial funds for the purchase of the Rookery Bay lands in order to preserve them for future generations. Wading and water birds can be seen along the way, sticking to the mangroves and scouring the muddy shores and flats for crustaceans and small fish.