News Releases

Cedar Key: important ‘rest area’ for wintering birds

News Release

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Media contact: Karen Parker, 386-754-1294

Human “snow birds” aren’t the only birds visiting Cedar Key during the colder winter months.

The area is used by more than 40 migratory bird species, and serves as the second largest overwintering site for the American oystercatcher throughout its range. American oystercatchers spend the summer months as far north as Maine and have been found overwintering in Cedar Key year after year.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists, shorebirds, including the American oystercatcher, and seabirds are at risk from disturbance to their roosting sites, especially during high tides. Roosting is vital for a bird’s survival. This gives them time to digest food and replenish energy.

“Oystercatchers are a long-lived bird, but their survival rates are affected by where they spend the winter. During cold months, the birds depend on availability of food, refuge from predation and protection from local weather events. Although foraging is critical for survival, roosting and resting are also important. A good roost is near feeding areas so the birds don’t have to spend energy flying long distances to eat,” said Blair Hayman, FWC biologist.

For coastal birds, roost quality is also affected by tidal conditions and protection from strong winds, high surf, precipitation and predation. Shorebirds and seabirds tend to roost in open areas so they can be aware of everything in the area such as nearby predators.

“The problem that we are now witnessing is that the roosting birds are being flushed off when boaters pass by large congregations of resting birds, or when boaters land on exposed land where birds are concentrated,” said Hayman. “This causes the birds to expend energy instead of roosting on the very limited sites available, especially during high tide.”

The birds use oyster reefs, beaches, spoils and shell rakes during high tides. These areas are attractive to the birds for several reasons.

“The lack of vegetation is important because this provides concealment and perches for predators,” Hayman explained. “The off-shore habitat is away from most predators and structures. The open area offers a view of any predators that may be in the area.”

However, if people get too close to the roosting birds during high tides, the birds may take flight and use energy reserves needed to survive through the winter and migration.

“There are a limited number of offshore roosts without vegetation that remain above the water at high tide. Boats landing or flushing birds at these sites can cause the birds to move to less ideal roost sites and may threaten the birds’ survival,” Hayman said.

Residents and visitors who are boating in the area can do their part to help the birds. While operating a vessel in the area where birds are roosting, remember:

  • If birds become agitated or take flight, then you are too close. A general rule is to stay at least 300 feet away.
  • Don’t anchor your boat on or near a site with roosting birds.
  • Never intentionally force birds to fly. When birds are disturbed they use valuable energy reserves needed for survival and migration.
  • Keep pets leashed and away from roosting birds.

“The FWC is working with partners to provide additional education and information to residents and visitors to Cedar Key,” Hayman said. “There will be a presentation about the importance of these high tide roosts given this spring as part of the seminar series at the Cedar Key library Thursday afternoons at 4:30.”


FWC Facts:
Employees of any facility that rents boats or personal watercraft must complete an approved boater safety course.

Learn More at AskFWC