It’s peak mating season in Sarasota—for birds, at least—and you have until the end of the month to catch the activity. “They’re all doing it,” says Jeanne Dubi, president of the Sarasota Audubon Nature Center.
While it’s tempting to peek into nests to find eggs and chicks, Dubi says it’s best to stay away. People think birds will fly somewhere else if they’re disturbed, but that’s not the case. “Birds are habitual and hang around the same spot, so give them a wide berth,” she says.
In particular, keep your distance from the snowy plover, Sarasota’s most vulnerable bird, Dubi says—on Siesta Key and other barrier islands. Audubon volunteers do their best to comb the beach, looking for the little scrapes where the birds (only 250 breeding pairs remain in Florida) plop their eggs, and then rope off the nests. When the eggs hatch, the chicks must forage for themselves—their parents do not feed them. Gulls, ghost crabs, crows, feral cats and dogs all prey on the tiny chicks. “They have a lot to deal with,” Dubi says, “so don’t go near the nests.”
The best place for birding is the Celery Fields. Visitors can tour the nature center with a docent from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. every day and hopefully spy some of the 20 to 30 species of nesting birds and hatchlings. The snowy egret, hunted almost to extinction for its feathers, is there in full breeding plumage; and you’re likely to see purple gallinules, red wing blackbirds and boat-tailed grackles as well. (Pelicans, herons, cormorants and other water birds are nesting on the mangrove islands on Roberts Bay, so if you’re on a boat, you can see, hear—and smell—them. Caution: People are not allowed on the islands.)
Abundant bird life is the sign of a healthy ecosystem, says Dubi. “Leave the birds alone, keep your cats inside and put your dogs on a leash.”