An introduction to the 'Big Four' marine shorebirds in St. Johns County – St. Augustine Record
For many ecological reasons, we are fortunate to live between the Atlantic Ocean beaches, the Intracoastal Waterway marshes and the St. Johns River estuarine blueway corridor.
We have some of the best aquatic (freshwater) and marine (salt water) shorebird habitat in the state, possibly in the coastal Southeast.
This area provides prime habitat for dozens of bird species, but I will focus on what I refer to as the “big four” of shorebirds — black skimmer, least tern, Wilson’s plover and American oystercatcher.
The big four, like many uncommon birds, are imperiled and protected by federal and state regulations. It’s very important for us to be aware of these birds and the habitats they use, so we can help keep their populations healthy.
During the summer, these four birds normally nest on beaches, islands in the Intracoastal Waterway, causeways and even temporary sandbars or dredge islands in our region.
Locally, in the confluence of the St. Augustine Inlet and Matanzas Bay is one such island known as Julia’s Island. It is important nesting site for the big four because it is protected from predators like domestic dogs, raccoon and fox.
However, Julia’s Island is also a popular recreation area for fishermen and boaters, who sometimes are not aware that many imperiled birds nest on the island.
Habitat loss from coastal development has reduced the number of suitable colony nesting areas for these birds. Their camouflaged eggs are laid in nests that are simple, relatively unsheltered scrapes in the sand and are very hard to see.
Fun Facts About the Big 4
1. Black skimmer has a striking plumage combination of black above and white feathers below, making them easy to spot and identify as they glide over water or relax on the beach. Black skimmers “skim” the surface of the