State and federally protected roseate terns nest in only two places in the Florida Keys: the Dry Tortugas and the tar-and-gravel roof of the Florida Department of Management Services’ Monroe County Regional Service Center. It just so happens that the two-story building on Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys hosts an office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the state agency charged with managing and protecting Florida’s fish and wildlife resources, including this particular shorebird species.

“It is appropriate that of all the tall buildings in the Keys, the roseate tern has established a major colony on top of the government building in Marathon, home to the FWC’s fish and wildlife research and law enforcement staff,” said Ricardo Zambrano, FWC regional biologist with the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “As far as we know, this is the only rooftop breeding colony in the world.”

Zambrano estimates there are 67 nests on top of the building. During breeding season, FWC biologists closely monitor this colony, managing the population. The work includes banding fluffy, speckled chicks to find out where they are wintering and to get an estimate of survival. In addition, FWC protects the rooftop inhabitants by limiting human access to reduce disturbances and sealing large drains so the small chicks cannot fall through.

Because of loss of habitat, increased predation and competition from other birds, the Florida population of roseate terns dropped to about 300 pairs. The FWC and its partners are working diligently to stabilize the population.

For more information on the roseate tern and Florida’s shorebirds, visit

Gabriella B. Ferraro, 772-215-9459

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