It’s one thing for migrating birds to vacate a location for the summer or winter. They usually leave other non-migrating species behind. It’s another thing for birds to be startled or scared and leave a place in mass panic. They usually come back when the threat has subsided. But it’s a mystery when every bird on an island, tens of thousands in all, suddenly disappears, many leaving behind eggs in nests, never to hatch. That’s what happened in May on Seahorse Key in Florida. Why? Where did they go? Will they ever come back?
Seahorse Key is a seahorse-shaped, uninhabited, 150-acre mangrove island off Florida’s Gulf Coast and part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge established in 1929 as a bird sanctuary. It is normally densely populated with little blue herons, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, pelicans and other birds.
It’s a dead zone now. This is where the largest bird colony on the Gulf Coast of Florida used to be.
That’s a quote from biologist Vic Doig with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). He and other biologists became concerned when they found that all of the bird species had abandoned the island in the middle of May, seemingly overnight. They attempted to determine why.
Bird carcasses on the island shows no signs of disease or poisons. There were a few signs of predators such as raccoons or great horned owls, but nowhere near enough to cause such an evacuation. They noticed that the airspace over the island was busy with helicopters and planes belonging to law enforcement teams searching for drug traffickers, but this had not disturbed the flocks before. They found a few birds that had moved to nearby Snake Key but the location of the rest is still unknown.
Unfortunately, that’s all the biologists have found so far. They’re hoping the birds will return. The lack of birds will undoubtedly affect the ecosystem as fish lose their main predators, snakes and small mammals lose their main source of food and plants lose their nourishing fertilizer of bird droppings.
We’re left with yet another animal mystery, this time a disappearance rather than mass deaths. Either way, it’s a cause for alarm.
It’s a dead zone now.