GULF BREEZE – Gulf Islands National Seashore has begun its annual effort to protect nesting shorebirds, and reduce the number of shorebirds killed by vehicle traffic in the national seashore’s Fort Pickens and Santa Rosa areas. Efforts will include lowering speed limits to 25 mph on Hwy. 399, installing radar speed signs and speed humps, and increasing speed limit enforcement patrols. All measures are meant to provide nesting shorebirds and their chicks the best chance to survive through the nesting and fledgling process.

Adult birds and their tiny chicks are sometimes struck by vehicles as they look for food near or on roadways. In order 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, you 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 remaining undeveloped 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 these beaches.

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