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Rooftop Nests

In Florida, several species of shorebirds and seabirds regularly nest on gravel rooftops, including least terns, roseate terns, black skimmers, and American oystercatchers.  In fact, in a 1998-2000 survey, rooftops supported 75% of least tern colonies in the state, and 83% of total nests.  In other words, least terns used rooftops more than the beaches for nesting. Approximately half of Florida’s least terns nest on rooftops over two decades later, highlighting the continued importance of rooftop-nesting habitat for imperiled shorebirds and seabirds.

From the birds’ perspective, there are some distinct advantages to rooftop nesting.  Birds nesting on rooftops generally experience fewer disturbances than those nesting on popular beaches.  The birds are also safer from some types of predators such as dogs, coyotes, and ghost crabs.  However, nesting on rooftops is not without risk. Rooftop nests can still be predated by crows, gulls, and other avian predators. Additionally, rooftops without raised edges and drain covers can be dangerous for flightless chicks, as they can fall off the roof or down the drain. Because rooftops are not typically managed like public lands, rooftop nests can be more difficult to proactively protect from activities such as roof repairs that can unintentionally disrupt an entire colony.

Rooftop nests also have unique management challenges. Building owners are not always pleased with shorebirds nesting on their rooftop. Since these birds are protected by federal and state laws, disturbing their nests is illegal even on private property, which can be a sore point for property owners. It’s important for building owners to work with the Florida Shorebird Alliance and to apply for an Incidental Take Permit if they do need to access their rooftop while nesting birds are present.


To ensure a successful nesting season for rooftop-nesting birds, a dedicated group of volunteers conduct a variety of activities.  These volunteers are affectionately known as Rooftop Stewards.  Rooftop Stewards perform three important tasks:

  1. Adopt a rooftop and visit the site weekly to count the number of adult birds flying over the property.
  2. Rooftops can be “chick-proofed” before nesting begins in the Spring. Chick-proofing may occur when the property owner grants permission on a rooftop where birds return to nest year after year. These chick protections include installing fencing around low-edge rooftops, covering drain pipes with screens, and deploying chick shelters to help prevent chicks from falling off the roof.
  3. Sometimes, chick-proofing is not possible or nesting begins before chick protections may be deployed. In these cases, Rooftop Stewards check the sites frequently once chicks hatch and begin falling off the rooftop (this is called chick-checking).  Chick-checkers examine fallen chicks for injury and return any unharmed chicks to the roof. If the roof can not be accessed through a hatch or door, chicks can be returned to the roof using boxes mounted on telescoping poles, known as “chick-a-booms” or “chick lifts”.  If any of the chicks are injured, chick-checkers make sure that they get to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Because rooftops support so many of Florida’s shorebirds, we can not afford to ignore them. If you live or work near a rooftop-nesting site, please consider volunteering as a local rooftop monitor or chick-checker. The birds depend on us!

Learn more about rooftop-nesting birds and contact us to get involved: 


Photo Credit: Bonnie Samuelsen
Audobon Florida Photo Credit: Bonnie Samuelsen
FWC Rooftop Monitoring Photo Credit: Jack Rogers