PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Birds Continue To Die On SWFL Beach

Joanna Metzger
A dead tern on a beach in Marco Island on Dec. 14, 2018

For more than a month, shorebirds have been found dead and ill on Southwest Florida beaches. 

Environmentalist and animal advocate, Colleen Gill of Naples, patrols local beaches regularly searching for animals in distress.

For the last several weeks, Gill said she has seen a flock on Resident's Beach in Marco Island go from hundreds of shorebirds to a few dozen in a recent conversation with WGCU's Andrea Perdomo. 

Perdomo:   Colleen, can you tell me a little bit about the situation in Resident’s beach? Are the birds still there? What have you been seeing lately?

Gill: The last that I saw them personally was Saturday and there were literally only five of the terns left on the beach and the rest were just laughing gulls and black skimmers. So the flock of terns is pretty much depleted now. 

Perdomo: When you went on Saturday did you see any dead birds or anything like that?

Gill: I did not. I do know Joanna [Metzger] that we were with, she was actually there and ran into some Audubon people and they took her birds, but she had a couple sick ones and a few dead ones.

Perdomo: When we went out to the beach, you were telling me that [the flock] was already a third of the size and for you to go back to the beach now and see, not even two weeks later, that there are only five terns left what is that like for you?

Gill: I mean part of me just hopes that they just got smart enough and moved on. Though I know deep down inside that most likely is not the case considering the death rates they’ve been having there. Its shocking to go from a flock that could be a hundred  or hundreds even sometimes deep to literally to seeing   one significant type of bird left and not the species that you normally see is disturbing to say the least. 

Perdomo: You guys have been visiting that stretch of beach consistently. I know that you guys were collectively finding about 20 birds a day there and for now, for there to be no birds

Gill:  They’re still finding some but not nearly as many and its sadly just because there aren’t any. Even the wading birds you would see in the lagoon , they’re much significantly less then what you would normally see, so,  I’m hoping they’re staying away or they’re moving to different areas. I know the FWC said that red tide for five of their samples. I mean that’s my concern if it’s the terns and we’re seeing other species now starting to fall ill, how much worse is this now going to get with the birds?

Perdomo: I spoke with someone from the Audubon Society and they were saying that possibly they might start going to the barrier islands just to see if maybe the birds have moved on.

Gill: I did hear that from the Audubon Society as well, that they were going to try to go out there. Because I did last week actually receive a report from fishermen who were out in that area  saying they saw a lot of dead ones on the first barrier island south of Marco Island. I’m hoping we can get out there just to confirm or deny that that is the case.

Perdomo: You are also the person who started reporting the dead dolphins a couple of weeks ago. Have you seen anything else like that? Have you encountered any other animals?

Gill: Last Wednesday I was at Keewadin, and I did find a dolphin there. That one had probably washed in around the same time we had the influx of dolphins. It was beyond decayed and buried in with the sand a little bit so it had been there a good week or so. But I still am finding birds though on random beaches. I’m finding cormorants, I’ve been seeing reports of pelicans from other rescuers I’ve been seeing reports of great blue heron and little blue heron and this is from rescue networks all up and down the coast.

A representative of the FWC wrote via email last week that preliminary data of samples taken from five terns, a species of shorebird, collected at Marco Island show that red tide was "likely a factor" in their deaths . A full report on test results is not yet available.