Red tide sickens birds in Venice area

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — Birds are dying, their bodies are being found washed up on beaches in the Tampa Bay area.

The culprit?  Red tide.

In addition to killing fish, red tide is also the cause of a surge in sick birds. A Sarasota County wildlife center is scrambling to save them.

Inside the critical care unit at the Wildlife Center of Venice, birds are clinging to life. Sadly, some are too sick to survive. Over the last few weeks, this center has been inundated with birds impacted by red tide. “We’re seeing a lot of toxic birds coming in, some of them actually look drunk, when they come in they’re walking, they can’t stand up,” said volunteer Beverly Groom.

Over the past few months, large algae blooms have formed in Tampa Bay area waterways, killing fish. Seabirds then eat the toxic fish and become ill. “They end up too weak to function on their own, they can’t dive on their own. A lot of them, their air sacs inflate so they can’t dive, they become too buoyant,” said Kevin Lindberg with the Wildlife Center of Venice.

The sick birds have to be closely monitored if they have any chance of survival. “A lot of them I think are dying out there. We’re picking them up by the time we get them in here, they’re gone,” said Groom.

These workers are frustrated that many people will spot sick birds, only to call for help days later.

“The quicker we get them in, the quicker we can treat them. If they’re out there too long, they get too toxic and then they can’t be treated and then they die,” said Groom.

But, outside you’ll find large aviaries and you’ll find hope. Many of the birds inside the aviaries were sick with red tide. But now, they’ve recovered and are waiting for release. As the influx of sick birds continues to roll in, these healthy birds serve as a reminder that these lives are worth fighting for.

If you spot any sick birds out on the beach,  call the Wildlife Center of Venice at (941) 484-9657 or call your local wildlife agency.

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