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Pelicans, herons, and spoonbills to be protected at new Audubon sanctuary

Tampa, FL – In late September, the Miller Family of St. Pete Beach donated a significant bird nesting island to the Florida Audubon Society for management as a bird sanctuary. This important coastal island is located in the small embayment of Boca Ciega Bay, previously known as Little MacPherson Bayou or the Don Ce-Sar Bay. This critical nesting island will now forever be known as “the Miller Family Bird Colony Island” and managed by Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries staff with the help of local volunteers.

“Our surveys over the past three years found over 200 pairs of birds of 12 species nesting each spring at the Miller Family Bird Colony Island,” states Mark Rachal, Audubon’s Sanctuary Manager, adding, “including some of our most beloved regional birds – Brown Pelicans, Great Blue Herons, and Great Egrets, plus some of the rarest of all Tampa Bay’s birds, Reddish Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills.”

Howard Miller, the family representative who coordinated the donation, explained that his grandparents, Harriet and Jacob Miller, originally purchased the property on Gulf Boulevard that included the island. They operated the small, family-run Rellim Hotel on the site from 1940-1981.

This summer, the descendants of Mr. and Mrs. Miller, including ten grandchildren and one daughter, signed over the ownership and management responsibility of the island and its bird inhabitants to the Florida Audubon Society. “All of us have a personal relationship with this part of Florida, and we all remember the birds,” said Howard Miller. The grandchildren, who are now located across the United States, including Pinellas County, all agreed with the proposal and supported the donation.

Now a protected bird sanctuary, Audubon has posted the Miller Family Bird Colony Island with bright yellow “No Trespassing” signs. Proper signage is crucial to educating citizens of the sensitive nature of this important coastal habitat. Longtime Audubon volunteers Barb and Dave Howard were on hand to assist in the posting of the island and routinely help clean the island of dangerous refuse fishing line.

The tall mangroves growing on the island support the nests of the wading birds and pelicans. They also provide critical winter-time roosting, resting, and foraging habitats. “We observed several Northern Rough-winged Swallows foraging for flying  insects around the island last spring - likely, they are nesting in cavities in the island’s handsome old mangrove trees,” reported Rachal. “This donation is truly significant; there are not many mangrove nesting colony islands left in Pinellas County. Audubon is grateful to the Miller Family for their incredible legacy gift.”

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