Red tide blamed for influx of sick birds at Venice rescue

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As red tide sprawls across Sarasota County beaches, wildlife rescuers are spread thin as they take in more sick animals.

The Wildlife Center of Venice reports taking in at least 35 sick birds per week.

At first, most of the rescued animals were small shorebirds, but now the center says it is treating a significant amount of large birds, like brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, great white egrets, anhingas, and black crown night herons.

“It’s hard to watch them go through it,” said Pamela Defouw, who helps rehabilitate the animals.

According to wildlife experts, the birds eat species of shellfish that have been contaminated by the red tide bloom.

Many of the rescued birds survive if the toxin is flushed out of their system early, but some have died at the center.

Resources are also stretched thin, as more birds are dropped off each week.

“The amount it costs per patient has put a strain," said Defouw, "between the hydration, medication, the staff that we bring in to care for this influx of patients.”

The birds that are nursed back to health are released back into the wild.

Under normal circumstances, they are returned to the place they were rescued from, but with red tide still present at many nearby beaches, the birds are released in other areas where there is no bloom.

“We’re waiting for the end," said Defouw, "you know, for the red tide season to come up, and it’s been a very long one, this season.”