By Allan Worms, PhD., Wildlife Biologist (retired)
Photos by Claire Herzog
The beautiful bird seen here is a Black-Bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) in full breeding plumage. It often visits our islands and if you walk the beach shore of Siesta Key during May you might see it as its breast colors darken prior to migration to its summer breeding grounds on the Arctic coast. This shorebird is sometimes called a “grey plover” because its colors are so bland prior to developing its breeding plumage. Watch for it and enjoy the change of colors, especially, as it gradually develops its bright breeding plumage.
Another migrant that occasionally visits Siesta Key is the Red Knot. This small bird, a type of sandpiper, is noted for its long distance migrations. It is only about 9 inches long with a 20 inch wing span but according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Red Knots (Calidris canutus rufa) breed above the Arctic Circle and migrate in flocks thousands of miles to winter at the tip of South America in Tierra del Fuego. During these long journeys, red knots undergo extensive physiological changes. Flight muscle mass increases, while leg muscle mass decreases. Stomach and gizzard masses decrease, while fat mass increases by more than 50 percent, IF they are able to find adequate food. Surveys have indicated significant drops in the population of these birds.
Migrating shorebirds, especially those that travel long distances, need all the feeding options available to them prior to long flights. Some birds preparing to migrate have been on our shorelines through the winter. Others may stop to feed as they begin or are continuing their migrations. Often they will be seen in small to large flocks along the shore or along the tidal pool that has developed on Siesta Key west of the Access 5 parking lot.
And, is there something we can do to help these birds? The answer is a resounding YES!
#1 Watch and enjoy, but keep your distance. Don’t disturb the birds and don’t let children chase the birds. Unnecessary flights may deplete the energy they desperately need to continue their journey.
#2. Stay outside of areas that are “roped” off to protect birds that are nesting or attempting to nest on Siesta Key. You will notice such areas marked by signs and pink tape on the lines surrounding these sites.
#3. If you see someone with a dog (or cat) on the beach politely inform them that our beach does not allow pets and let them know their pets are welcome at Brohard Paw Park, 1999 Harbor Drive, S. Venice. It is illegal to bring a dog on any Sarasota County beaches except for designated “paw parks”