Rookery Monitoring Program

The Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves (CHAP) Colonial Water Bird Nest Monitoring Program is a cooperative effort between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves and J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) offices. Staff from CHAP and Ding Darling NWR conduct monthly nesting bird surveys within the Ding Darling NWR Complex, and the Matlacha Pass, Pine Island Sound, Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor, Cape Haze and Lemon Bay aquatic preserves. Currently, 34 islands are monitored, and the data collected is analyzed and submitted to the South Florida Water Management District for publication in its annual South Florida Wading Bird Report. The data reported is the peak nesting effort for each island and avian species. The report is used to follow trends in wading and diving bird activity and to estimate the number of nesting wading and diving birds in Florida. 

Wading birds are an important indicator species for the health of the estuaries since they feed at such a high trophic level. Their indicator species status and dramatic decline since the 1930s make their protection a necessity. Surveying and documenting trends in wading bird populations will help document their status and biodiversity in the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves.

Each island is surveyed once a month during the nesting season, starting in February, and continuing until the island is no longer active. Direct counts of nesting pairs or nests on the islands are documented using both a primary and secondary observer. Islands are circled slowly by boat, and individual nests are recorded according to species and nesting stage.

The program also ensures that the islands are protected so they can provide suitable habitat for nesting activity to occur. This protection includes conducting cleanups on the islands to remove trash and fishing line once the islands are no longer active to prevent entanglement. All bird fatalities observed are documented and entered into the Florida Fish and Wildlife Bird Mortality database.

Please keep a distance of at least 300 feet from active rookery islands, and do not leave fishing line or debris in the mangroves or islands. If you see an injured or entangled bird, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922.