Tampa Bay Estuary Program Tampa Bay Estuary Program


Birds of the Bay

Portrait of the Tampa Bay Estuary - seabirds

Despite the environmental pressures from growth and development in the region, Tampa Bay continues to attract a remarkable variety and number of birds. Most spectacular are the great breeding colonies where thousands of birds of some 25 species--including pelicans, cormorants, herons, egrets, ibis, spoonbills, terns, and skimmers--come to rear their young. These large colonies are found on islands, where nests are safe from predators and disturbance. Mudflats and seagrass meadows in shallow sections of the bay provide a bountiful fishing ground for resident, migrant, and wintering shorebirds. Open waters are habitats for loons, grebes, and ducks.

Maintaining these bird populations in a growing metropolitan area is challenging. Many species are declining, and some have virtually disappeared due to loss and disruption of habitat.


  • Observe posted signs that identify breeding colonies. Don't go ashore! And don't let dogs run loose in these areas.
  • Between May and August, gulls, terns, and skimmers may nest at unmarked sites. If you discover a cloud of birds circling noisily above your picnic, you may be in a colony. Carefully pick up your belongings and leave, then watch where the birds settle. Choose a spot 100 yards away and enjoy the view.
  • If you are fishing and a bird becomes entangled in your gear, carefully remove the hook and monofilament line. Or if your simply walking along the beach, pick up any stray fishing line and dispose of it properly. Birds and other animals that ingest or become entangled in fishing line may die.
  • Report injured seabirds that require assistance. Consult the BOATER'S GUIDE resource directory for appropriate listings.
  • Stay clear of small islands that may harbor nesting colonies and of areas where flocks of feeding birds are visible. Operators of personal watercraft, wave-runners, and airboats should be aware that the noise and prop-wash from their vessels disturb wildlife and may disrupt nesting and feeding.
  • Remember: The best way to observe and enjoy these beautiful birds is by being quiet and moving slowly. A few extra minutes can pay rare dividends.

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