Least terns in Pasco face deadly falls off roof

Audubon asking for help to save protected birds

Using the gravel rooftop as a makeshift beach, a colony of least terns has established itself on top of a strip mall in Pasco County.  But there's a problem.  The newly hatched tern chicks are falling off the roof as there's no rail to protect them.

Least terns are protected birds in Florida and their numbers are declining, according to Marianne Korosy, a biologist for the Audubon Society of Florida.  That's why it's important that breeding colonies successfully hatch and fledge their chicks.

"What's happened is they've taken to nesting on gravel-covered rooftops, which are very much like beaches," said Korosy.  While the store roof at the intersection of Moog Road and U.S. 19 provides some protection, the terns are still prone to predators, such as hawks and gulls.

Just the mere sight of one can send the birds flying in all directions.

"It creates pandemonium on the rooftop.  And the chicks start running around and sometimes they topple right over the edge," Korosy said.

The West Pasco Audubon Society has developed a device that can hoist any surviving chicks back up to their nest on the roof.  Jokingly called the "chick-a-boom," the device features an orange juice carton attached to a long pole.  Audubon said it's better to return the chicks this way rather than venturing out on the roof itself, which can disturb the colony and the nests.  

Audubon is asking for volunteers to monitor the base of the building where the nests are located.

"During the next three or four weeks, we need people at least three times a day to look for chicks," said Peter Day, president of the West Pasco Audubon Society.

Anyone interested can call Day's phone at (727) 372-6382.

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