Boaters, Anglers Encouraged to Stay Clear of Coastal Waterbird Rookeries
March 28, 2023
Media Contact: TPWD News, Business Hours, 512-389-8030
Note: This item is more than two months old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references.
AUSTIN — With peak boating season around the corner, Texans recreating on the coast are likely to spot iconic coastal birds such as brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, black skimmers and reddish egrets nesting in dense colonies, called rookeries. These rookeries provide breeding homes (and nurseries) for thousands of birds and other species on barrier and smaller islands in Texas bays. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) encourages Texas boaters and anglers to watch out for these nesting birds while on the coast so they aren’t disturbed during this sensitive time.
“With too many disturbances, an entire colony of thousands of birds may abandon an island and give up on breeding for the year, which can potentially lead to drastic population declines,” said Trey Barron, a diversity biologist with TPWD. “When approached too closely by boaters or people wading nearby, birds are frightened off their nests, leaving eggs and chicks exposed to the summer sun, which can cause them to overheat. The abandoned nests also allow opportunistic predators like gulls and grackles to quickly swoop in and feed on them.”
Colonial nesting waterbirds — whose nests, eggs and chicks are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and by Texas Parks and Wildlife Code — typically nest from late February through August. The tiny nesting islands, including spoil islands, may only appear to be large sandbars. This puts the birds at a greater risk of encountering coastal anglers, boaters, birdwatchers and wildlife photographers, among others. More than half of the 25 species of colonial nesting waterbirds in Texas are experiencing major population declines.
These birds and their habitats are valuable to Texas. Black skimmers, the species featured on the logo of the TPWD Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail signage, have declined about 70 percent since record-keeping began with Texas colonial waterbird surveys in 1973. The reddish egret, a state threatened species with more nests in Texas than almost anywhere, attracts birders from all over the world.
The Texas Colonial Waterbird Society, a large partnership of federal and state agencies, universities and nonprofit organizations, recommends that people fish, swim and play at least 50 yards from rookery islands to minimize unintentional (and potentially illegal) disturbances. While the nesting islands are often attractive spots for kayakers and other boaters, it’s important for humans, and their pets, to keep a safe and respectable distance.
In addition to avoiding rookery islands during the nesting season, it’s recommended that boaters and anglers properly dispose of fishing line, tackle and other waste to ensure that no birds, turtles or other marine life become entangled, injured or killed.
“The habitats that waterbirds use are the same habitats in which we — including myself — enjoy fishing, hunting and photographing wildlife,” Barron said. “We just have to remember to give them their space, especially during the nesting season, and pick up after ourselves. If you’re out on the water, look for the yellow signs that identify rookery islands and keep your distance. We can all enjoy the same places, as long as we do it responsibly.”
For more information visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/wildlife_diversity/tcws/.