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Alleged intentional killing of threatened bird species on Marco Island beach investigated

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Jean Hall
Special to WGCU
The death of five black skimmers on a Marco Island beach has prompted an investigation by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission and Marco Island police.

The death of five black skimmers on a Marco Island beach has prompted an investigation by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission and Marco Island police.

A police report said the five birds, a threatened species in the state of Florida, were killed, allegedly intentionally, by a golf cart driver on the beach working for the JW Marriott. The report said one of the dead birds had been banded in Tampa Bay area for research.

The Marco police report said officers were dispatched to the beach area in front of 400 South Collier Blvd. shortly before 1:30 p.m. Monday. The remains of the five birds were seen in the sand.

The banded bird was evidence that these birds sometimes fly significant distances to find the few remaining places to rest and feed in order to have a successful summer breeding season.

FWC information said the black skimmer is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is also protected as a State Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.

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Special to WGCU
The black skimmer is a seabird with defining physical characteristics that make it easily distinguishable from others. The key physical feature of the skimmer is its large red and black bill. The bill begins to widen at the top and gradually becomes smaller as it forms a sharp tip at the end of the bill. The lower part of the bill is longer than the top, which is important because they use their bill to skim along the top of the water to catch fish, for which they are aptly named.

Information on the Migratory Bird Act said violations are generally a misdemeanor punishable by fines and imprisonment.

A violation of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rules relating to threatened or endangered species can,
upon a first conviction, result in being imprisoned for not more than 60 days or fined not less than $100 nor more than $500, or both.

Florida Fish and Wildlife will be handling the investigation into this incident with Marco Island police assistance.

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Braun, Michael

According to FWC information the black skimmer inhabits coastal areas in Florida such as estuaries, beaches, and sandbars. Skimmers can be found from the coasts of the northeastern U.S., down to Mexico, and over to the Gulf Coast of Florida. Breeding range is from Southern California, down to Ecuador.

The black skimmer faces many threats as the human population increases and spreads to previously undeveloped coasts. Habitat loss due to coastal development is the main threat to the species. People are relocating to the coasts at unprecedented levels causing increased development and traffic on the beaches, as well as increased predators; all of which are detrimental to skimmer habitat.

Because skimmers nest on the beach and are colonial they are extremely vulnerable to disturbance by people, pets, and predators. Other threats include recreational activity, beach driving, shoreline hardening, mechanical raking, oil spills, and increased presence of domestic animals, all of which may prevent or disrupt nesting or result in the death or abandonment of eggs and young.

Global climate change is an impending threat to the black skimmer. Sea level rise may cause destruction to primary nesting areas, resulting in a decreased population size.

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