Thousands of birds leave ‘dead zone’ after abandoning Florida Gulf Coast

Reuters / Lee Celano
A 150-acre portion of the Florida Gulf Coast is being described as a “dead zone” by scientists after thousands of birds mysteriously abandoned their typical nesting grounds on the federally protected landscape.

The most surprising is that there isn’t just one species of bird that has disappeared – it is virtually all of them, including blue herons, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, pelicans and more, according to a report by the Associated Press. And while some bird families have taken up residence on another island close by, the vast majority is nowhere to be found.

"It's a dead zone now," said biologist Vic Doig of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to the news outlet. "This is where the largest bird colony on the Gulf Coast of Florida used to be."

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Scientists are baffled about the development, particularly because the area in question – part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge called the Seahorse Keys – isn’t even accessible to people without a boat. Biologist Peter Frederick of the University of Florida told AP that birds do abandon their nests, but that doesn’t mean every species on the island should do so at the same time.

So with that in mind, scientists performed a number of tests to see if they could pinpoint the cause of the mystery migration. Yet tests showed no diseases or contamination, no influx of predators, such as raccoons, infiltrating the habitat, and no other convincing reasons for the birds to flee.

Still, researchers remain wary of the event, since the disappearance of the birds could cause a chain reaction of events, since some animals need the birds to survive.

"Any rookery that's persisted for decades as one of the largest colonies is incredibly important," said Janell Brush, an avian researcher with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to the AP. "It's quite a large colony. There had to be some intense event that would drive all these birds away."