Spring has sprung in the Sunshine State, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding residents and visitors this is a very important time of year for wildlife. From manatees leaving their winter warm-water refuges to black bears teaching their young to forage for food, Florida’s wildlife is on the move!
As the weather warms, many species begin to migrate, mate, feed and nest. This increased level of wildlife activity means people are more likely to encounter wildlife and should take precautions to avoid disrupting these natural behaviors and prevent conflicts with wildlife.
“Spring is one of the best times to enjoy viewing wildlife with your family, but it is also a very important time of year for many vulnerable species, including sea turtles and beach-nesting birds.” said Melissa Tucker, deputy director of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “Be sure to keep a respectful distance from wildlife as you enjoy the outdoors this spring.”
Tips on how to enjoy and help conserve Florida wildlife during spring:
• Manatees - Chances of close encounters between manatees and boaters increase in the spring, as manatees leave their winter-use areas and travel the intracoastal waterways along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and other inland waters. Look out for manatees when on the water. For boaters, it is a critical time to be on the lookout for manatees to avoid collisions with these large aquatic mammals. Boaters should follow posted speed limits as many areas have seasonal zones in spring that reflect manatee migration patterns.
• Nesting Birds - Keep your distance from birds on the beach and birds gathering on tree islands. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. Disturbance can cause birds to abandon their nesting sites, which exposes their eggs and chicks to predators, sun exposure and other harm. Shorebirds and seabirds lay their eggs in well-camouflaged shallow scrapes in the sand. Eggs and newly hatched chicks blend in with sand and shells and are vulnerable to being stepped on unless people look out for them. Wading birds, such as herons and egrets, and pelicans also are nesting now on mangroves and tree islands.
• Alligators - American alligators, which are Florida’s official state reptile, are fascinating to see. They occur in freshwater lakes, slow-moving rivers and wetlands in all 67 counties in the Sunshine State. When the weather warms up in the spring, they become more active and are visible as they begin seeking food. While serious injuries caused by alligators are rare in Florida, it’s important to be safe when in or near the water. By following the FWC’s living with alligator tips, you can reduce the chances of conflict. If you’re concerned about an alligator, call the FWC’s toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286), and we will dispatch one of our contracted nuisance alligator trappers to resolve the situation.
• Gopher Tortoises - Spring days are a good time to spot a gopher tortoise, as Florida’s only native tortoise becomes more active, foraging for food and searching for a mate. If you see gopher tortoises or their half-moon shaped burrow entrances, it is best to leave them alone. You can help a gopher tortoise cross a road by picking it up carefully and placing it in a safe location along the roadside in the direction it was heading. But only do this if it is safe for you to do so, andRemember the tortoise is a land animal, so never attempt to put it into water.
• Bears - As spring temperatures warm, bears become more active, increasing the opportunities for conflicts with people. During this time of year, females are teaching their cubs what to eat and the skills necessary to survive. Do your part to make sure eating garbage, pet food or bird seed in your yard is not part of that learning experience by securing or removing those and other attractants. If they can’t find food around your home, bears will move on.
• Sea Turtles – These large marine reptiles begin nesting in the spring. You can help by keeping beaches dark at night and free of obstacles during their March through October nesting season. Artificial lighting can disturb nesting sea turtles and disorient hatchlings, so avoid using flashlights or cellphones on the beach at night. Turn out lights or close curtains and shades in buildings along the beach after dark to ensure nesting turtles aren’t disturbed. Clear away boats and beach furniture at the end of the day and fill in holes in the sand that could trap turtles.
• Bats- Bat maternity season begins on April 15. Maternity season is the time during which bats gather to give birth and raise their young, and it is illegal to exclude them during this time. Now is the best time to inspect your home for any small cracks or holes that might allow bats to get inside.
• Snakes - Snakes are most active in the spring and fall. What should you do if you see a snake in your yard or while hiking? Just stand back and observe it. Snakes don't purposefully position themselves to frighten people. They'd much rather avoid encounters and usually will flee.
• Injured and Orphaned Wildlife - If you find a baby animal, it is best to leave it alone. Baby animals rarely are orphaned; a parent may be nearby searching for food or observing its young. Instead, report wildlife you think may be injured or orphaned to the nearest FWC Regional Office.
It’s illegal to harm wildlife or to harass certain species including sea turtles, manatees and state-threatened birds, so if you see someone not following the rules –call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone.
Learn more about wildlife in spring at MyFWC.com/news/spring-news. For more tips on where and how to view wildlife at MyFWC.com/viewing.