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Red tide causing spike in sick birds, rescuer says

Seaside Seabird Sanctuary is delaying the release for some treated birds amid concerns they'll fall ill again.

INDIAN SHORES, Fla. — It's not just fish and other marine life falling ill — or worse — from red tide in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

A local rescue is seeing more sick seabirds, mainly pelicans and cormorants, coming in because of red tide toxicity.

Workers at Seaside Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores said last month, 30 birds came in sick. Birds, such as those pelicans, will eat fish that are contaminated with a brevetoxin caused by red tide. 

When the birds ingest that, it makes them sick.

The development manager for Seaside Seabird Sanctuary, Christina Chilbert, explained there are signs to look out for. 

"If you see a bird that’s exhibiting any types of signs of toxicity... they act a little bit wobbly, they’re being in a spot they normally wouldn’t be in, look lethargic, call our rescue line, 727-391–6211," Chilbert said.

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As a wildlife expert, she says it's important rescuers are able to get the birds in as soon as possible. When it comes to red tide toxicity, the first 24 hours are critical. 

"The sooner we get those birds, the better chance they have to be released back into the wild," Chilbert said.

Once a bird is diagnosed with a sickness related to red tide, the sanctuary's hospital will give the bird fluids and feed it fish. 

"They’ll be extremely lethargic, they may not want to eat at all the first day or two that they’re here. We get them fluids, make sure they get fresh fish immediately, if they’re able to eat," Chilbert said.

Some birds take days to recover while others could take weeks. A big challenge right now with red tide present in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties is the wildlife center won't release birds. 

Workers have concerns birds will be released and then eat fish that ingested the brevetoxin. Right now, Seaside Seabird Sanctuary has more than 85 pelicans and 30 cormorants ready to be released, but they are delaying that for the birds' safety.

"We’re a little hesitant to do that with red tide because we don’t want to release them and then have then come back to us with an issue," Chilbert said. Right now, the center is near capacity with so many sick birds coming in.

"The numbers have definitely gone up and we are seeing an increase in hospital admittance," Chilbert said. 

She expects to see more birds sick because of red tide throughout the upcoming months.

If you would like to help the center, you can volunteer or make a donation.

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