MIAMI (AP) — The nesting of wading birds, a key indicator of the health of Florida's Everglades, has made modest gains, according to an annual report released Thursday.
According to the report issued by the South Florida Water Management District, wood stork, white ibis and great egret nesting significantly improved in 2013. The number of roseate spoonbill nests in Florida Bay also increased, though scientists caution that the total is still far below the historical average.
Other wading bird species that have shown steep declines in nesting in recent years did not show any improvement last year, however. Snowy egrets and tricolored and blue herons had significant declines, in particular.
Overall, last year was a relatively average year with 48,291 nests, officials said,
The best year on record for nesting since the 1940s was 2009, when officials counted 87,564 nests.
A primary goal of Everglades restoration efforts is improving natural water flows to sustain healthy wading-bird populations. Historically, large flocks of birds thrived throughout the Everglades, but their populations declined as canals and flood-control structures drained the wetlands for South Florida's development.
Most Everglades restoration projects remain delayed by funding and legal challenges. "What we're using these numbers for is as a marker for what we expect to improve in the future," said Mark Cook, lead scientist for the district's Everglades systems assessment section.
One major restoration project that started operations last year is exceeding expectations in improving wildlife habitat, which could lead to bigger increases for some wading bird nesting within the next few years, according to Audubon Florida.
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