Birds sickened from eating fish killed by red tide

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Red tide continues to ravage the Sarasota and Manatee County areas. Friday, piles of dead fish washed ashore on Lido and Anna Maria Island beaches.

The toxic bloom has killed fish, dolphins, turtles, and manatees – and now it’s taking a toll on birds. 

There's hardly an empty cage at the Wildlife Center of Venice. Pamela Defowl, with a group of volunteers, works around the clock, rescuing, recovering, and rehabilitating birds sickened by the red tide toxins.

For the scavenger birds, dead fish are an easy target. They have no idea when they're eating them that they're being sickened by the red tide.

“The birds will eat the fish, whether it be out in the water, or a lot of your sea gulls will eat the dead fish in the shore. They ingest that toxin from the fish and it effects them. They appear intoxicated. They stagger. They become debilitated,” the Wildlife Center of Venice’s director of operations, Pamela Defowl ,explained.

For some of the birds, it's too late, but for the ones that can be saved, fast action is required.

“We start immediately with flushing their systems with hydration. The key factor is you've got to keep flushing that toxin out and building up their strength before we can even reintroduce them to food,” Defowl said.

At another rescue, Wildlife Inc. in Bradenton Beach, three laughing gulls and two ospreys are recovering.

“We probably won't see the full effect for another week or two," Wildlife Inc.’s Ed Straight said.

Straight says he's had two gulls die from the red tide toxins. He's been rescuing birds for more than 30 years. He expects more will need his help and is making more space for sick birds to stay longer once they're healed.

"If you think about it, we don't have any good release spots right now. We are going to have to keep them till things clear up," Straight said.

He added it will probably be a while before the full impact of red tide on birds is known.

Wildlife rehabilitation centers across the area say anyone who sees a bird in need of help, try to call a rehab center immediately. If you can, they ask that you pick up the bird and drop it off to any rehab facility.