GULF BREEZE — Gulf Islands National Seashore has begun its annual effort to protect nesting shorebirds and reduce the number of shorebirds killed by vehicles in the National Seashore’s Santa Rosa area.

Efforts will include lowering speed limits to 25 mph, installing radar speed signs and speed humps, and increasing speed limit enforcement patrols. All measures are meant to provide shorebirds and their chicks, some species of which are threatened, the best chance to survive through the nesting and fledgling season.

Adult birds and their tiny chicks are sometimes struck by vehicles as they look for food near or on the far side of roads. To decrease the number of road kills, posted speed limits will be temporarily reduced to 25 mph near nesting areas. By observing posted speed limits and watching carefully for birds flying across or feeding along the road, motorists can help to protect the nesting colonies. By September, nesting is complete and normal use of the roads will resume.

Each year, beginning in late-February and ending in late summer, the seashore provides some of the only nesting habitat for several species of ground-nesting shorebirds, including least terns, snowy plovers, Wilson’s plovers and black skimmers. Least terns come from as far away as Central and South America to raise their young on area beaches.

In addition to roadway changes, small portions of the National Seashore are closed to all visitors. If visitors find themselves besieged by birds, it means they are near an unmarked nesting area or young chicks. Please leave the area by back-tracking; eggs are very small and hard to see. Intrusion into the nesting areas will cause the birds to take flight and leave their nests vulnerable to heat and predators. The adult birds will often dive at intruders to try to drive them away from the colony. Alarmed birds may then fly low across the road and into the paths of oncoming vehicles.

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