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von Arx Wildlife Hospital feed a Sandwich tern rescued from Marco Island. Jon Austria, jaustria@gannett.com; 239-227-7803

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Birds in southern Collier County are getting sick and dying.

Joanna Fitzgerald, the director of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida's von Arx Wildlife Hospital, said something other than red tide could be affecting the birds.

For about three weeks, the wildlife hospital has admitted sick sandwich terns and common terns on a daily basis from Marco Island beaches, Fitzgerald said.  

Most days Adam DiNuovo, a program manager with Audubon Florida, brings four to five sick birds in the morning and four to five more in the afternoon from Marco Island to the wildlife hospital. 

More: 15 more dolphins found dead in Collier, Lee counties Wednesday

From Nov. 11 to 17, the wildlife hospital admitted a total of 24 sandwich terns and common terns, and 92 percent of those animals have died, Fitzgerald said.   

In addition to those terns, some royal terns and laughing gulls have been admitted to the wildlife hospital recently, Fitzgerald said.   

When these species of birds are suffering because of toxin from red tide, Fitzgerald said, they do not normally die as quickly as have the birds admitted to the hospital recently.   

The latest water sample results from the FWC, posted Nov. 20, showed patchy areas of medium concentrations of red tide at the south end of Sanibel and in the Lovers Key area near Bonita Springs in Lee County.    

More: Red tide suspected as dead dolphins wash up on Collier, Lee beaches

Counts in the rest of Lee and in Collier counties were mostly at natural background levels, according to the sample results. This is part of the reason Fitzgerald has been careful not to assume red tide is killing the birds, she said.  

“I can’t say either way right now,” Fitzgerald said. “I cannot say if it’s red tide or a virus until we get the test results back.”  

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Here's the difference between red tide and blue-green algae. Wochit

Testing to determine the cause of death has been done on several of the birds, and Fitzgerald said she expects results to come in the next few days.  

She said she has never seen this many deaths of birds of these species in her 25 years at the wildlife hospital.  

“We are providing a wide variety of treatments and doing everything we can,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s tough until we know what’s causing it because they are passing away quickly. Most are lasting just hours at the hospital, which makes it difficult to help.” 

More: Samples show red tide scarce in Collier, patchy across Lee

 

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