Nearly 102,000 wading bird nests were initiated during the 2021 wading bird nesting season, according to the latest South Florida Wading Bird Report. This represented the second largest number of nests initiated by wading birds, one of the bellwether species used by scientists to gauge the overall health of the Everglades, since scientists started surveying nesting throughout the Everglades in 1996.
“This latest reporting year shows the benefits of Everglades restoration efforts when climatic conditions are favorable and the exciting potential for all the ongoing environmental restoration projects that will be finished in the coming years,” said SFWMD Dr. Mark Cook, lead editor of the SFWMD Wading Bird Report. “We had above average rainfall and favorable timing during the reporting period. This shows that as we are restoring the hydrology of the Everglades, getting the water right will allow Mother Nature to take advantage of favorable conditions when they are presented. All species, including wading birds are benefitting.”
The report shows that all four wading birds species studied by the SFWMD, including the Great Egret, White Ibis and Wood Stork, had nesting seasons that exceeded their 10-year averages. In particular, White Ibises initiated more than 2.5 times as many nests as they have typically averaged over the past decade. Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills also nearly doubled their 10-year averages for nests. Most importantly, the report shows that approximately 34 percent of all nests were found in coastal areas, a region where scientists have been trying to restore nesting for years. This represents one of the best years for coastal bird nesting in recent decades and a continuing trend of improved coastal bird nesting. Five to 10 years ago, as little as 10 percent of all nests were found in these areas.
In the 1980s and 1990s, before the start of Everglades restoration began, nesting years would routinely see as few as 5,000 nests throughout South Florida regardless of climatic conditions. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) uses wading birds as a key indicator species to understand the impacts of restoration efforts.
Working together with our federal, state, and local partners, the district continues to accelerate key projects that are improving the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water to the Greater Everglades ecosystem. To date, over 50 Everglades restoration projects have been completed, broken ground or hit a major milestone since January of 2019. Projects such as the EAA Reservoir Project, Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, Picayune Strand Restoration Project, and many more continue to make progress.
Dr. Cook credited the restoration projects and operational actions taken by the SFWMD, such as installing a plug in the L-38 Canal and sending more clean water to Everglades National Park, with helping wading bird nesting recover in recent years.
The district appreciates the many partners who assisted in the creation of this year’s report, which relies on data from the district and partner agencies and organizations.