[GUEST POST] By: Nick Vitale, Graduate Student with the UF IFAS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department and UF IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station

Poor Nesting Success: A mystery?

Raccoons, birds-of-prey, human disturbance, high tides… these are all potential threats to American Oystercatchers breeding along the nature coast. Oystercatchers have shown poor nesting success in the region in recent years but currently little is known about the factors affecting productivity.  Nick Vitale, a graduate student with NCBS and UF WEC, is working to find out more.

Nick is currently monitoring nesting oystercatchers along the Nature Coast to determine the rate at which various factors contribute to nest failure and chick mortality. To answer these questions, Nick and a team of collaborators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and University of Florida make frequent trips to nesting locations to monitor breeding status and nesting behavior.

Additionally, the research team has deployed dozens of remote cameras aimed at active nests to determine their fate. They are midway through the first season and data collected have begun to shed some light on the situation. Around Cedar Key, many islands providing suitable nesting habitat for oystercatchers are, unfortunately, also at extremely low elevations. This causes major problems as nests are frequently washed away during high tides. Cameras have also revealed the presence of several different predators that may be impacting productivity.

 

High tides claim many unsuspecting nests on low-lying islands
High tides claim many unsuspecting nests on low-lying islands

High tides claim many unsuspecting nests on low-lying islands

A young raccoon makes a quick meal out of an oystercatcher egg
A young raccoon makes a quick meal out of an oystercatcher egg

 

 

Tracking nesting success to inform management

Despite the many risks nesting oystercatchers face in the area, numerous oystercatchers have beat the odds and have successfully hatched and raised chicks. Overall, 2017 has the potential be a rather successful season compared to recent years.

American Oystercatchers with chick in the Nature Coast
American Oystercatchers with chick in the Nature Coast

 

When chicks are a few weeks old, researchers carefully capture them to place unique bands on their legs. This allows the researchers to continue monitoring the bird’s activities as they leave the nesting area. Nick will use the data collected from this nesting season to help provide wildlife managers and other stakeholders the information they need to improve oystercatcher nest success along the Nature Coast. The efforts to improve conditions for oystercatchers will likely have a positive influence on many other species found in and along the Nature Coast.

 

Andrew Townsend (FWC) holds a newly banded oystercatcher chick.
Andrew Townsend (FWC) holds a newly banded oystercatcher chick.

 

 

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