One of the many amazing adaptions migrating seabirds have developed is the ability to not only use gravel rooftops, but thrive on them! Species like Least Terns and Black Skimmers usually nest on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, but due to many factors like increased tourism and development, heightened predator pressure and increased storm frequency, difficulty nesting on the beach is at an all-time high.

Thankfully there are many gravel rooftops with nearby bodies of water that closely resemble these birds preferred nesting grounds. In Escambia County alone, there are records of Least Terns and Black Skimmers nesting on around 10 different rooftops since 2010.

While rooftop nesting seems like a great solution to our overcrowded beaches, it is not a long term answer. Tar and gravel rooftops are being phased out, eliminating suitable nesting sites each year. Between 2017 and 2018 the Panhandle had two gravel rooftops reroofed with a membrane material, unsuitable for shorebirds. Businesses are fixing and reroofing their buildings with membrane or another non-suitable substance instead of tar and gravel for a number of reasons. Gravel is more expensive to maintain year to year and is less energy efficient than the membrane.

In a few years, if the rooftop nesting birds keep losing 2-3 rooftop nesting sites each year, our nearly 50 historical sites across the panhandle will decrease by 20%.  The rooftop nesting seabirds will either have to adapt to yet another alternative nesting site or try again on the beaches and struggle to fledge their chicks.

What can you do? If new, suitable habitats can be created as quickly as they are disappearing the seabirds may be able to continue to be successful nesting on gravel rooftops.  Audubon Florida is always on the lookout for businesses that are building structures near the water that would be willing to adapt their vision to make the site bird friendly.  This could include parks, pavilions, houses and larger structures as well. Finding or creating alternative nesting sites for these imperiled shorebirds could be the answer to rebuilding the population to healthier numbers.

If you do find a colony using a rooftop please call the Panhandle Rooftop Nesting Coordinator, Emily McKiddy at 608-332-3802 or email her at emckiddy@audubon.org.

By Emily McKiddy