The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) received more than two dozen bird patients in the span of two weeks. Many of these birds were being treated for showing symptoms of red tide or blue-green algae poisoning, but experts say this isn’t only happening on Sanibel Island.
When looking at the red tide map for Southwest Florida, it seems quiet. But SW Florida’s bird population is telling a much different story. Joanna Fitzgerald is the director of von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “I can tell you in the last week, we’ve had four patients admitted with toxicosis symptoms. So yeah, we had cormorants. And we have had an adult brown pelican that just came in this morning that was suffering with the toxicosis,” Fitzgerald said.
The Conservancy isn’t the only organization seeing a short currently. CROW Clinic on Sanibel has received 26 birds with toxicosis symptoms within the past few weeks.
Alison Charney Hussey is the executive director for the CROW Clinic. “Over the past week, we’ve seen about less than half a dozen Brown and White Pelicans come in and they are presenting red tide,” said Hussey.
“They came to us really in bad shape, and so it was suspected that in addition to brevetoxicosis or red tide poisoning that there may have been some sort of bacteria issue going on,” Hussey said.
Eric Milbrandt is marine lab director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. “Their patients are not from one specific place. They’re really an indicator of the condition of the food web, in relationship to red tide,” said Milbrandt.
Experts are warning that just because we cannot see the red tide in the Gulf doesn’t mean it hasn’t infiltrated the food web. “The food that the birds are eating is mostly fish, and those fish are part of the food web, and they feed on either smaller fish or invertebrates that are accumulating the toxin,” Milbrandt said.
“Because there are animals that are eating the karenia, the dinoflagellates and they’re consuming the toxin, and it’s becoming a part of their tissue,” said Milbrandt.
And, toxicosis doesn’t just affect animals in the Gulf. “In other areas, not just thinking of the gulf, but you know, if there are pesticides being used in, say communities on the grass and things like that, that can produce toxins,” said Fitzgerald.
That tangled web is now making birds sick.
The CROW Clinic suspects that bacteria played a role in the birds’ illness. They’ve since been sent to The University of Georgia for evaluation. The results have not yet been revealed.
“We don’t have those results back yet, but you know, we’re hoping for the best,” said Hussey.
Fitzgerald says more research needs to be done on the different contributors of toxicosis.