Threatened shorebirds return to nest on Brevard County beach after decade-long absence

It’s not just sea turtles nesting on Brevard County beaches right now. A threatened shorebird, known as the least tern, is also trying to re-populate by laying eggs on the beach.

The least tern is in danger across the state, and volunteers are trying to save the nest and the species from extinction. According to volunteers with the Florida Shorebird Alliance, the least tern nest colony hasn’t been seen on beaches in Brevard for around a decade. Least terns are a threatened species here in Florida, and they’re running out of safe spaces to nest.

"Oh my gosh, it’s happening. It’s been a long time," said Ruth Ellen Peipert, who noticed the nest when the least tern was trying to get a crow away from its eggs. 

Peipert has been surveying beaches in Brevard County for a decade, looking for new least tern nests.

"It’s just very uncommon. I myself, in the 10 years I’ve been walking this beach, have never found a bird nesting on the beach. This is the first time," said the longtime volunteer. 

She recently found one in Indian Harbour Beach, so volunteers moved fast, putting up signs and stakes to protect the eggs.


Even with protection, the birds are struggling to survive. 

"They’re looking for habitat that is suitable, and that habitat is going away every year," said Joel Cohen, who also volunteers with the Florida Shorebird Alliance. \

Cohen says these birds used to nest on the beach, but overdevelopment and busy beaches full of people forced them away. They were nesting on rooftops, but now those are going away, too.

"Those roofs are being replaced with newer technology, rubber, and that is not conducive for nesting," he said.

People and pets are the biggest dangers on beaches. While interviewing Cohen, volunteers noticed a potential hazard getting too close to the nest: a dog without a leash. 

Volunteers went over immediately to try and educate the owner because dogs are a major predator, and the nesting birds are terrified of our four-legged friends. They can crush the eggs in seconds, and this threatened species needs all the help it can get to see its babies survive.

"Give them their space," concluded Peipert. If any of these eggs in the colony are able to safely hatch, they will still need to learn how to fly, so they will stay in this general area. This means we should all be mindful of least tern nests through August.