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Bird rafts a success at Fort De Soto | News

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Bird rafts a success at Fort De Soto

Pinellas County, Florida -- At Fort De Soto Park you'll find people floating on rafts, but that's not what has researchers peering through binoculars-it's the birds on them.

"I can see a couple fluffy chicks running around," says Beth Forys, an Environmental Science Professor at Eckerd College.

Forys is keeping track of Least Terns nesting on two rafts floating in a park inlet. It's an exciting time, because the rafts were built especially for this threatened species.

Photo Gallery: Least Terns float on rafts

"I don't think this is the silver bullet that will save all the Least Terns, but I think this is part of the solution," says Forys of the raft experiment.

Least Tern numbers are dwindling in Florida for a number of reasons. People and buildings have taken up their favorite beach nesting areas and the gravel rooftops that they turned to instead are disappearing too.

So three years ago, county staff, scientists and local bird enthusiasts got together and came up with what's now proving to be a not so bird-brained idea.

"If you build it they will come," says park supervisor Jim Wilson with a laugh. "I believe if we watch this bird species they'll adapt. This species in particular has adapted extremely well to man-made structures."

Curious birds checked out the rafts the first two years, but this is the first nesting season where a large number of adults set up house. The floating "gravel rooftops" keep the eggs away from raccoons and rising tides, which in previous years have wiped out all the nests at Fort De Soto.

"We've been really pleased," says Forys of this nesting season. "The number of chicks on the rafts is more than we've seen on a beach or a rooftop in quite some time."

Last Saturday, researchers banded 14 chicks and more are expected to hatch. Forys is documenting this buoyant bird bastion and when it comes to boosting Tern numbers, rafting could be the wave of the future.


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