Florida helicopter pilot charged with harassing protected birds after landing on shorebird nesting site

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A helicopter pilot in Florida was charged this week by the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) after he allegedly landed on a closed shorebird nesting site.

Ernesto Cordero was charged with harassing the nesting birds, a misdemeanor, for allegedly harming the eggs of a protected species when he landed at Egmont Key State Park, scattering hundreds of shorebirds after he smelled fuel, according to FOX 13

He was also cited for landing a helicopter in a state park and entering a closed area. 

The shorebirds have gathered at the wildlife refuge to breed, according to the FWC. 

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Cordero told FOX 13 he was afraid that fuel was leaking from the copter, and he chose to land at the island wildlife refuge at the mouth of Tampa Bay, instead of risking a crash. 

FWC investigators said that witnesses reported seeing a woman get out of the helicopter and take photos at the closed nesting site, which contained black skimmers and sandwich terns. Cordero said he was able to check for a leak without getting out of the helicopter. He added that he didn’t radio in an emergency. 

Hubbard’s Marina Capt. Robyn Lela told FOX 13: “It’s their home, and we’re coming to it, and we need to respect that.” 

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Cordero was flying a company helicopter owned by CC Landscaping Warehouse Plus, Inc., in Bradenton, Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported, citing Flight Aware. Cordero reportedly owns the company. 

Cordero eventually landed south in Punta Gorda, the Times reported. 

“Our seabirds and shorebirds have an intrinsic value, and, a right to exist here on the beach,” Audrey DeRose-Wilson of Audubon Florida told FOX 13. “But if we want to talk about, like the value they give to us, they are indicators of a healthy, functioning ecosystem, which is something that benefits all of us.”

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Audubon Florida said that the wind from the helicopter’s blades likely damaged eggs at the nesting site as the pilot landed. 

Cordero is expected back in court on July 1, according to the news station