Locals and visitors crowded the beaches of Huguenot Memorial Park. It was my first day as a volunteer bird steward on a weekend, and it was a busy one. After City of Jacksonville Parks Naturalist Shelley Beville showed me the ropes, I went ahead and set up under the stationed shaded tent on the beach.
The beach is split up into zones, which makes it easier for lifeguards to identify locations in case of an emergency. When you step onto Zone 11, there is a distinct difference in the number of birds that inhabit the area, and cars are not allowed to drive past this point.
Two species of birds dominate the area – Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns. My duty was to inform the beach visitors about the birds that colonized in the area to mate. More specifically, to educate visitors about and protect the numerous chicks that recently hatched. Although the Royal Terns are rather peaceful, the Laughing Gulls do possess a competitive side. Stewarding not only helps protect the chicks from car traffic, but also helps reduce disturbance which prevents the chicks from scattering and stumbling into another bird’s territory. In turn, this helps reduce bird-on-bird aggression. Unfortunately, there were still some chicks wounded by adult gulls and some that wandered away from their parents and ended up on the other side of zone 11, where the cars are parked.
I was incredibly satisfied with the amount of people who came up to me concerned about bullied chicks. Some would carry the chicks over themselves; others would offer to bring me over to them. It is important for chicks to stay with the rest of the colony where they have safety in numbers and their parents can find them to feed them. Returning the chicks to the rest of the colony protects them from getting run over and also gets them back where they can be tended to by their parents.
It was a very nice experience to see that so many people would take time out of their beach day to express concern for the wounded animals, and also good to know many of these chicks recover and fledge successfully. I look forward to my next time volunteering.