MANATEE -- Those planning on visiting Anna Maria Island this Memorial Day holiday weekend may come across a small cluster of people on the beach with binoculars.
The group, a blend of volunteers from Audubon Florida, the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring and Mote Marine Laboratory, are bird stewards dedicated to protecting coastal birds.
"Memorial Day Weekend is around the peak nesting time for all of our beach-nesting birds, so it's the time of year when they're the largest number of birds," said Marianne Korosy, an important bird area coordinator for Audubon Florida. "Some of them have chicks by now --
little, tiny, fluffy chicks that are very vulnerable to the hot sun and vulnerable to getting stepped on."
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Audubon Florida issued a press release Tuesday asking boaters and beachgoers statewide to protect coastal birds this holiday weekend.
"It's absolutely a wonderful time of year to enjoy the beach, but our concern at Audubon is that people aren't usually aware that birds lay their eggs right on the sand so when they see an area on the beach that is surrounded by posts and signs, they don't really know what it is," Korosy said. "Most people think birds nest in trees. Sea birds and shore birds lay eggs directly on the sand so it looks like the birds are just sitting there."
There are four roped-off bird nesting colonies on Anna Maria Island containing least terns and black skimmers -- birds that congregate over their eggs.
According to Audubon Florida, boaters or beachgoers who approach nesting birds too closely may unintentionally cause the death of chicks and eggs. "When parents are flushed from their nests, chicks and eggs are left vulnerable to predators, overheating in the summer sun and crushing under foot (in the case of beach nesters)," according to the release. "A single, ill-timed disturbance can destroy an entire colony."
Korosy said bird eggs will cook in 10 to 15 minutes in the sun.
AMITW Executive Director Suzi Fox, who has been organizing the bird stewards for this weekend, said 100 feet is a safe distance to keep from bird colonies.
"When we bird steward, we educate. We don't police because on Anna Maria Island, lucky us, we don't have problems with dogs and boats pulling up to the beach," she said. "We have wonderful people that love the birds so our job is so easy."
Kathy Doddridge, a volunteer with the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring and member of the Manatee County Audubon Society, will serve as a bird steward Sunday.
"I think it's important that we are visible to the public, especially visitors and people from our community who are spending time on the beach this weekend," the 58-year-old Bradenton resident said. "It's always a really busy time, both peoplewise, birds and turtles, and the more we can educate the folks that use our beaches, the better we're all going to be."
Doddridge and other bird stewards will be by 26th Street North in Bradenton Beach. She said it gives the public an opportunity to ask questions about the birds."Knowledge is really key," she said. "If people know what we're doing to help the turtles, to help the birds, then they can also see how they can positively impact them."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.