Second suspicious Marco Island bird death sparks outrage, concern for greater migratory disturbance

Rachel Heimann Mercader
Naples Daily News

 The local Audubon society is sharing its concern after the second, protected migratory bird was apparently shot on Marco Island.

Audubon Western Everglades field biologist Brittany Piersma discovered the bird lifeless on a mudflat on Dickman's Point on Sunday, and its position suggested it spent hours in agony, grabbing at its wing with its beak, she said.

Last year, rescuers rushed a royal tern to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida after it was found clinging to life and bleeding from a wound caused by a pellet gun on the same beach. The tern died shortly after.

“Hopefully, we can get some outrage,” Piersma said, who reported both bird deaths. “If they don’t feel safe in an area that could disrupt their ability to find food sources and seek protection from predators.”

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Diversity in species is crucial to any healthy, functioning ecosystem. Marco Island beaches are home to more than 60 species of sea, shore, and water birds.

The bloodied bird found Sunday is known as a sandwich tern, a migratory bird that visits various Florida coastal areas after summer nesting is over and chicks have fledged. They feed and rest on their way to South America or winter over. 

Smaller than most terns, the birds are one of the easiest to identify just by looking at the bill. The black bill is pointed and narrow tipped in yellow — as if it dipped its bill in mustard of a “sandwich.” 

They prefer sandbars and beaches and try to distance themselves from potential disturbances, Piersma said.Depending on the time of year, they may hang out around humans in hopes of being fed and to avoid attacks from predators.

Colleen Cosgrove, a wildlife rehabilitation specialist at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital, gives medication to a sandwich tern on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, in Naples.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Passed in 1918, protects the birds. The act makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect migratory birds or their eggs or nests — or attempt to do so — without explicit permission. 

Penalties can range from a maximum of six months in prison and $15,000 fine for misdemeanor violations to maximum penalties of two years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  

Unlike the royal stern death last year, rescuers did not find a pellet in the latest bird. Still, Piersma and the the Audubon group has reason to believe it may have been killed under similar circumstances since “it appeared to have an obvious entry and exit wound,” Piersma said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission cautions against attributing the death to a shooting without more evidence.

“The cause of death is undetermined at this time,” Public Information Officer Carol Lyn Parrish said.

Piersma worries that the culling of the flock will harm the natural paradise that is Marcos Island and won't be a practical resting place.  

Patrick Regnard rescues a sandwich tern from fishing thread on Friday, August 9, 2019, at the Naples Pier.

“It could cause a minimal to maximum disturbance depending on how frequently this continues to happen,” Piersma said. “It might affect their ability to migrate because they were choosing that spot to refuel and now they think that they have to just continue on with migration path.”

“They then might not have the energy to do it anymore.”

The birds are also known to stop in in the Caribbean. If they deem Marco Island or Florida a dangerous place, they'll start just stopping elsewhere, Piersma said. 

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement is seeking any witnesses or information regarding the incidents. Persons with information can contact commission at the Wildlife Alert Hotline, toll-free, 888-404-3922.