September 3, 2013

Norm's Pond Rookery

Posted by: Ecological Management

Norm's Pond Rookery

For years, a variety of wading birds have gathered at Norm’s Pond to nest. Wading birds typically look for islands surrounded by freshwater wetlands. These freshwater wetlands are home to American alligators, who act as the birds’ best defense against mammalian predators, such as raccoons. According to Tim Keyes, coastal bird biologist for Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Non-game program, there are 10 other nesting colonies, or rookeries, like this one on the coast. All of these colonies are monitored by GADNR at least twice a season by fly-overs and some are monitored additionally on the ground.
In 2013 we saw activity begin at the end of February. Breeding season varies between species and this is to ensure less competition in the highly desirable nesting locations.  Little St. Simons Island’s rookery at Norm’s Pond provides great nesting habitat for up to 7 species of wading birds. The first of the wading birds to arrive are typicall the great egrets, shortly followed by snowy egrets, tricolored herons, anhinga’s, cattle egrets, white ibis, and black-crowned night herons. Nest building, courtship, and copulation may be observed as the birds bring sticks to the islands and dance with their partners to show off their brilliant breeding plumage.

The two-story observation tower provides a spectacular view of the nests on one of the two islands at Norm’s Pond and along the perimeter of the pond. It also allows us to more accurately monitor the nests. We have been following the nests the last few seasons and have found that as predicted, the nests on the islands fare better than the nests on the edge of the pond. This provides a perfect example to the important role that American alligators play as a keystone species, here on the coast. Without the American alligators to patrol the waters at the rookery, raccoons and other predators would be more likely to take advantage of the buffet of bird eggs.
The middle of the nesting season is the busiest time at the rookery. In May of 2013 we had over 80 nests that could be observed from the viewing tower! We knew of additional nests on the far side of the pond and deep in the vegetation on the islands that could not be easily seen from the tower.

Overall, the rookery has been successful the past few years and we are fortunate to be able to have such up-close and personal viewing opportunities during such an important part of the wading birds’ life cycle.


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