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Hundreds of pelicans flying over a shoreline
Information icon Brown Pelicans flying over St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Nicole Rankin, USFWS.

Florida shorebird surveys underway thanks to creative staffing

Crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches are two features you will find at St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses St. Vincent Island in the northwestern portion of the Florida Gulf coast. Besides being surrounded by pristine Outstanding Florida Waters, the barrier island refuge is also an important safe haven for at-risk species, including gopher tortoise, Florida red-bellied turtles, and black rail birds. It is an important stop-over point for neotropical migratory birds - birds that breed in North America but spend winters in Mexico, Central America, South America or the Caribbean islands.

Currently, the Service is conducting surveys on the refuge, focusing on shorebirds and the impact of a predator control project funded by Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement dollars. The St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge Predator Control project was approved as part of the 2019 Florida Trustee Implementation Group Restoration Plan I, and aims to mitigate the negative impacts of feral hogs and raccoons on shorebirds, and other wildlife habitat that are managed by the refuge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program is implementing the predator control portion of the and will continue that work for the next year and a half.

A tiny white and black bird freshly hatched from an egg on the beach
A least tern chick after hatching on the beach. Photo by USFWS.

The shorebird survey will continue through September, and the information will be compared against data gathered as part of an Early Restoration Phase II avian habitat enhancement project, when predator numbers were high. This comparison will enable biologists to see a before and after picture to determine the success of their predator control activities. However, due to the social distancing requirements, the refuge was unable to hire seasonal technicians to conduct the needed surveys.

Through creativity and teamwork, the refuge is utilizing existing staff to get the survey work done during the first shorebird breeding season following control activities. The Refuge Manager asked a current technician on staff to add the survey to an already full workload.

Dozens of birds on a Gulf shoreline
Caption: Gulls, terns, and brown pelicans at Indian Pass, FL; adjacent to St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Nicole Rankin, USFWS.

“The kind of can-do attitude and flexibility that our staff has shown during this trying time is what makes me proud to work for the Service,” said John Stark, Refuge Manager at St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. “Our staff has enabled our work to continue ensuring that critical survey data is not lost, which could have negative impacts on the overall project.”

Guided by the Monitoring and Adaptive Management framework, shorebird surveys are conducted to assess the efficacy of the St. Vincent Island project. Results showing an increase in nest productivity resulting from decreased nest predation on shorebirds would indicate an effective project. Thankfully, due to the work of refuge and USDA staff and with significantly reduced visitation to the island, the project continues even during these times of social distancing.

Check out the Gulf Spill Restoration site for more stories on the progress being made in the Gulf and the State of Florida.


Taylor Pool, Public Affairs Specialist, (404) 679-4096

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