Experts say it has been a while since there was a natural bird die-off in the Florida Keys, but some say it’s happening right now.
A Marathon couple that found a sickly rock dove in the yard of their apartment brought it to the Marathon Wild Bird Center after noticing its odd behavior. But it’s not rock doves, common pigeons, that are dying — it’s Eurasian collared doves that are being found dead in the Middle and Upper Keys.
“The die-off happens once in a while and lately I’ve seen some people who have had up to four or five dead in their yard,” said Kelly Grinter, founder and director of the Marathon Wild Bird Center.
Eurasian collared doves are considered an invasive species not native to the Keys.
“They start to look lethargic, they’re not hard to catch and their eyes are kind of droopy and the next day they’re dead,” she said of the collared doves. “There is nothing we can do to save them.”
In Tavernier, people have been bringing sick collared doves to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center from the Plantation Key Colony subdivision.
“We have seen a decent amount coming in and they’re emaciated and dying. We’ve saved a few but the collar doves have taken a hit,” said Kayla Gainer, rehab manager, adding she’s seen about 10 in the past two months.
Some have tested positive for trichomoniasis, a parasite that can be deadly to birds. Since it is an invasive species, Gainer agreed there is little effort in finding out the reason for the dove die-off.
“No one really wants to do research on the collared doves. We haven’t seen it in the mourning doves and we don’t know why it’s just the collared doves,” she said.
In the Lower Keys, Peggy Coontz, animal care director at the Key West Wildlife Center, said bird activity is normal for this time of year.
“This is the most stressful time for them due to the extreme weather conditions and if there is any weakness, this is when it’s going to show up and be the most magnified,” she said, adding common bird diseases include botulism, trichomoniasis, avian pox and the parasite coccidia.
“We see them coming in sick with those conditions more in the summer months than any other time of year,” she said.
Grinter said bird feeders should be cleaned twice a week and moved around to prevent the birds from spreading disease to each other, as they tend to ingest each other’s droppings. Also, wear gloves when disposing of any dove carcasses, she said.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, Eurasian collared doves were introduced in the Bahamas in the 1970s, made their way to Florida by the ’80s and rapidly colonized most of North America.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219