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Scores of dead herons a mystery

Published July 1, 2007


The mystery of the yellow-crowned night herons surfaced about two weeks ago when Kathleen Moran found the first of the dead birds near her front door.

Since then, residents near the intersection of 49th Street and 29th Avenue S have found dozens of birds lying motionless on their driveways, in the grass under the Australian pines where the herons nest, and on the sidewalk, ravaged after a neighborhood stray cat mistook the carcasses for lunch.

"It's very sad, " Moran said. "Who would do this, especially when it is nesting season and you have all these little baby birds around?"

The case has stumped wildlife officials who have traveled from as far away as Gainesville to study the fallen birds, but have yet to determine the cause of death.

Gulfport city officials seemed flabbergasted, and residents, who have taken to burying the birds in their own back yards, are spreading rumors that someone has been spraying harmful pesticides in the neighborhood.

Residents claim that at least 60 birds have turned up dead along this one street in Gulfport in recent weeks.

Also found dead were nearly a hundred tree frogs, most of which, unlike the birds, will not be missed, residents said.

Initially, Bob Williams, Gulfport's parks supervisor, chalked up the deaths to another case of bird eats bird.

"We've got a lot of birds at Hoyt Field, " Williams explained. "The hawks attack the doves. They will hit them with their beaks and then eat them real quick. We find bird carcasses all the time."

He canvassed 29th Avenue S for clues last week, but save for a few lone feathers, everything seemed in order.

Still, to a city administrator, it is always wisest to run through the worst-case scenarios. A few dozen deceased birds could mean scary stuff. Maybe avian flu. Or biochemical warfare.

"Especially nowadays with terrorism stuff, " Williams said, "someone could have poisoned the water."

Linda Holmes, a property manager for Caldwell Realty, which oversees the Pontiac Apartments on the corner of 29th Avenue and 49th Street S, was certain someone had been seen spraying chemicals near the trees weeks before the first dead bird was found.

"Whatever it was, it took them all out at once, " she said.

Usually, five reported cases of dead birds in an area is cause for alarm, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The cause of the deaths could be anything, especially something banal, like someone forgetting to properly clean their bird bath, Morse said.

The commission sent two biologists last week to pick up bird carcasses. The necropsy results will be available in a few weeks, Morse said.

But the results will only do so much to assuage the grief of some residents in this part of Gulfport, where the nesting herons have been treasured for decades.

Only a few blocks from Boca Ciega Bay, 29th Avenue S is lined with quaint, single-family homes, a series of apartment buildings shaded by towering trees and patches of shrubbery.

It isn't the kind of street where someone would set out to intentionally kill herons, Moran said.

And that's what worries her. What else could it be?

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or

Fast Facts:

Deaths monitored

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission keeps tabs on dead wild birds to monitor potential health concerns and protect local animals. To report a deceased bird, go to

[Last modified July 3, 2007, 08:37:03]

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