TPWD reminds boaters of bird rookeries

Staff Reports
Posted 5/19/20

With peak boating season just around the corner, Texas Parks and Wildlife ( is reminding coastal boaters they are likely to spot iconic birds on the coast such as brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, black skimmers and reddish egrets nesting in colonies, or rookeries. These rookeries can consist of thousands of birds and a multitude of other species on smaller island in Texas bays or barrier islands.

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TPWD reminds boaters of bird rookeries

Posted

With peak boating season just around the corner, Texas Parks and Wildlife ( is reminding coastal boaters they are likely to spot iconic birds on the coast such as brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, black skimmers and reddish egrets nesting in colonies, or rookeries. These rookeries can consist of thousands of birds and a multitude of other species on smaller island in Texas bays or barrier islands.

TPWD is also encouraging the state’s boaters and anglers to steer clear of these nesting birds while on the coast as to ensure they are not disturbed during this sensitive time.

“With too many disturbances, an entire colony of thousands of birds may abandon an island and give up on breeding for the year,” said TPWD Diversity Biologist Trey Barron. “Over time, this can potentially lead to drastic population declines. When approached too closely by boaters or people wading nearby, birds are frightened off their nests, leaving eggs and chicks exposed to rapidly overheat in the summer sun and allowing opportunistic predators like gulls and grackles to quickly swoop in and feed on them.”

Colonial nesting waterbirds, whose nests, eggs and chicks are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and by Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, typically nest from late February through August. The islands in which the birds nest are often tiny, including spoil islands, and may only appear as large sandbars. This puts them at a greater risk of encountering people as recreational use by coastal anglers, boaters, birdwatchers, and wildlife photographers, among others, is highest. Of the 25 or so species considered to be colonial nesting waterbirds in Texas, over half are experiencing major population declines.

These birds, and their habitats, are valuable to Texas. Black skimmers, the species featured as the logo for the TPWD Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail signage, have experienced a severe decline, approximately 70%, since record-keeping began with Texas waterbird surveys in 1973.  Similarly, the reddish egret, a state threatened species, attracts birders from all over the world. More reddish egrets nest in Texas than almost anywhere else in the world.

According to TPWD Nongame and Rare Species Biologist Cliff Shackelford, the black skimmer may be the next bobwhite, a bird which was once widespread in Texas but has disappeared from nearly 83% of its U.S. range.

“Many people now miss hearing the bobwhite’s sweet whistle, and soon saltwater anglers and boaters may miss the graceful waterbird that skims the surface in search of a meal,” said Shackelford.

The Texas Colonial Waterbird Society, a large partnership of federal and state agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations, recommends that people fish, swim and play from 50 yards away from rookery islands to minimize unintentional and potentially illegal disturbance. While the nesting islands are often attractive spots for kayakers and other boaters, it’s important for humans, and their pets, to keep a safe and respectable distance.

“The habitats that waterbirds use are the same habitats in which we, including myself, enjoy fishing, hunting and photographing wildlife,” said Barron. “We just have to remember to give them their space, especially during the nesting season, and pick up after ourselves.  If you’re out on the water, look for the yellow signs that identify rookery islands and keep your distance.  We can all enjoy the same places as long as we do it responsibly.”

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