As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Friday 28 September 2018

Red Tide endangers more than sea life. Birds are latest victims

Published: September 17, 2018
One recent morning, Elizabeth Forys saw a strange sight on St. Pete Beach.
The Eckerd College biology professor was visiting to check on the condition of certain seabirds as a Red Tide algae bloom rolled into Pinellas County’s iconic beaches. She saw a laughing gull just sitting on the sand, and she walked up to it. Instead of flying away, it didn’t move, not even when someone came to pick it up.
As with other birds she’d seen staggering around as if they had vertigo, she suspects the gull was poisoned by Red Tide.
Amid all the talk of the wildlife killed by Red Tide this year — eels, snook, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles — seabirds and shore birds are frequently left out.
But they’re suffering as well, to the point that wildlife rehabilitation experts are on the lookout for ailing birds. They are particularly searching for the ones that are supposed to be protected by state and federal law, such as black skimmers, least terns, snowy plovers, oystercatchers and red knots.
"We’re really worried about the red knots," said Lorraine Margeson, an avid birder who monitors nesting behavior at For DeSoto. She noted that this time of year, more than a thousand often wind up on the beaches between St. Pete Beach and Sand Key.
The birds that get sick appear to fall ill after eating the dead fish killed by Red Tide. The algae’s toxins collect in their avian bodies and affect their neurological and digestive systems.
Sometimes the poison is fatal. Forys said four snowy plovers died on Lido Key near Sarasota, all apparently killed by Red Tide. She said that’s an unheard of number of simultaneous deaths for that species, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The hardest hit area appeared to be Sarasota. There, a wildlife rehabilitation facility called Save Our Seabirds took in 45 sick birds in a single morning, said Melissa Dollard, avian hospital director for the Seashore Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores. Dollard said she’s hoping her facility doesn’t get that many Red Tide patients in such a short space of time.
"We’ve gotten about 20 birds so far that are presenting with Red Tide symptoms," Dollard said.
The ones most commonly affected are the laughing gulls, she said, but the sanctuary has also cared for a pair of cormorants, a ruddy turnstone and a few pelicans, among other species.
Treating them involves giving them food that’s not tainted by Red Tide, providing fluids to flush out the toxins and sometimes treating them with activated charcoal, which helps purge the Red Tide, Dollard said. Usually they’re fine after seven to 10 days of treatment, she said.

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