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Red tide responsible for gull admissions

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

Two laughing gulls were among the 61 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week.

The two laughing gulls were admitted after being found on a Marco Island beach suffering from toxicosis due to red tide. Red tide blooms create neurotoxins which affect many species of seabirds. Symptoms of toxicosis vary slightly between species. Clinical signs of toxicosis can include disorientation, inability to stand, incoordination, respiratory distress and seizures.

The treatment plan for toxicosis patients is similar and begins with the patient receiving supplemental oxygen immediately upon admission. Subcutaneous electrolytes are administered until the bird is strong enough to handle oral fluids. Herbal supplements are administered twice daily while a vitamin supplement is given once a day until the bird is eating on its own.

A specialized diet designed to meet the needs of critically ill birds may be provided via a tube placed directly into the bird’s stomach as the bird begins to recover and gain strength. Typically a bird only requires this type of feeding for two or three days before being able to start eating solid food.

Both of the gulls are responding well to our treatment protocol and continue to recover in the bird room at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. Typical recovery time within the hospital is three weeks but that time frame depends on the severity of the toxicosis. As birds recover and no longer need intensive care in the hospital, they are moved to our outdoor shorebird recovery pool.

Unfortunately, the gulls aren’t the only birds recently admitted suffering the effects of red tide. Black skimmers, common terns, double-crested cormorants, and ruddy turnstones have also been brought to our wildlife hospital for care.

While red tide persists in our area, marine life will continue to be affected. If you see a bird struggling on the beach, please offer assistance. If a debilitated bird stumbles into the water it can drown. Rescue techniques are similar no matter the species you are dealing with — wear eye protection (sunglasses, reading glasses) to keep yourself safe. Use a towel or t-shirt to cover the bird’s head and body. Once the bird’s head is covered, the darkness helps keep it calm making handling easier. Place the bird in a secure, yet ventilated container and transport it to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for assistance.

If you encounter marine mammals or sea turtles suffering from the effects of red tide call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888–404–3922.

Recent Releases

Two grey squirrels, a red-eyed vireo, two eastern cottontails, a yellow-bellied slider, a peninsula cooter, a Florida softshell turtle, a black-and-white warbler, a mourning dove, a royal tern, two gopher tortoises, a double-crested cormorant and a marsh rabbit were released last week.

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