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Share the beach with terns and skimmers!

Black Skimmers nest on Navarre Beach, Florida.
Black Skimmers at Navarre Beach, Florida, July 25, 2014, by Jeff Cole.

Florida’s Black Skimmers and Least Terns are the subject of a wonderful article in our soon-to-be-published August issue by National Geographic Young Explorer grant recipient Erika Zambello.

Least Terns summer along the coasts of the United States and Mexico and in the Caribbean, but they spend the winter months along the shoreline of Central America and upper South America. They arrive in Florida late March early April, and generally begin nesting in late April.

Least Terns nest on Flagler Beach, south of Jacksonville, Florida.
Least Terns at Flagler Beach, south of Jacksonville, Florida, by Joshua Clark.

Black Skimmers are found on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, along the Gulf coast of Mexico and Central America, and across the majority of South America. They breed in Florida during the summer, generally between May and early September.

Both birds traditionally nest on beaches, particularly dunes — areas that are prized for development and recreation. Human traffic brings dogs, cats, and other predators, and unsuspecting beachgoers step on camouflaged eggs or scatter chicks and parents.

Declining habitat has taken a toll on the population of both birds. Black Skimmers are Florida-designated species of special concern, while Least Terns are listed as threatened.

Competition for beach real estate has been so intense, Zambello writes, that over the past few decades terns and skimmers have shifted to nesting on the sides of bridges or on gravel rooftops. But not all of them.


You can help those that still nest on Florida’s beaches three ways. One is to become a volunteer bird steward. According to Audubon Florida, stewards keep beachgoers from entering sensitive nesting areas (or try to) and help educate visitors about birds.

Another is to become a beach docent, a volunteer who leads fun and educational beach walks that focus on coastal birds and wildlife in light of a changing climate.

A third way you can help is by taking part in Project ColonyWatch, which relies on volunteer birdwatchers to conduct regular censuses of waterbird colonies and to help plan protection and management efforts, if needed.


Get details about Audubon Florida’s coastal-bird stewardship programs.

If you are interested in volunteering, send an email with your name, telephone number, and general location to [email protected].

The August 2016 issue of BirdWatching containing Erika Zambello’s article about Florida’s causeway skimmers and rooftop terns will go on sale at Barnes & Noble and on other newsstands July 5.

See reader photos of Least Tern.


A Least Tern family on a New Jersey beach, and how the photographer got the shot.

Photos of Black Skimmer.

Great places to go birding in Florida.



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