Fisherbirds and their humans


So obviously someone here has things figured out..

Welcome to my tropical wintering grounds, Sarasota, Florida! A far cry from frosty Seal Island, where I spent this past summer, helping for a third season a 40+ year project under Audubon that monitors reintroduced seabirds, the charismatic Atlantic Puffin being the main show, that nest in colonies on seven Project Puffin-owned islands off the coast of Maine. So I will be posting here from my base camp while also writing pieces for the blog I’m now taking on, at Wild Lens, Inc.. My writing will continue to be primarily bird-focused and based around conservation and research of species and how they survive alongside mankind. Management is key! And if that means 40 years of occupying and monitoring these sensitive species that wouldn’t otherwise be able to nest successfully because of more hearty species like the ever-present, french fry snatching gull that is looking for an opportunity to snag an easy meal (like a fuzzy tern chick), then so be it!


Fuzzy tern chick just ‘cuz.

So today I sat down on the seawall next to a boat fisherman who was filleting his afternoon haul of snappers. He had quite the audience.  A pod of highly anticipatory pelicans circled itself around our man as he sliced the fleshy sides off the fish and tossed the head and vertebrae into a sudden flurry of bat-like beaks, splashing water and flopping wings. He told me some good spots for fishing off the bridges around here, I’d like to try my hand at getting my own food once again. It’s a pretty darn sustainable way of life, provided what you’re eating isn’t too tainted with unnamed chemicals and pollutants!

We wondered why the gulls hadn’t seemed to catch on. I guess it’s all about happenstance, because who knows when you’re gonna get a windfall like a guy pulling up with buckets of baitfish and carcasses! Well, the pelicans got word quick.

How do you feel about feeding the birds? It’s funny because humans get a lot out of it and it makes the birds have to invest a whole lot less energy into finding food for the day. It also can make certain less human-shy species really rocket in populations (thanks to the bounty of french fries in our parking lots, for example) and then become either pests, like the fact that you can’t eat at Siesta Key without having half your sandwich (or granola bar, as in my mothers’ case) get snatched right out of your hand when you lift it toward your mouth for a bite. And the fact that gull populations which boom thanks to the glut of food off of lobster boats then peel off and see this island full of fat juicy tern chicks and, can you blame them?

Humans have an impact on everything around them, everything they interact with, including the ecosystems trying to operate despite them. And opportunists like gulls will take advantage of any free meal, as we all would. But then you watch a family being run off from a beach picnic and you shake your head in shame lamenting that that is what those poor people will equate birds with from now on: a traumatizing experience caused by greedy, flocking pests. Don’t get me wrong, I was that little tyke feeding the gulls back when, and I was pretty sure the one had my finger as it flew off, that’s how hard it snapped my hand as I held a piece of bread skyward. I take full responsibility, as we all should! Now it’s just a matter of voicing the problem and being willing to discuss it, because there is no ONE solution. Not to this, not to anything. I enjoy feeding the birds, but where is the line drawn?

Thoughts? Comment about it here!

About Stacey M. Hollis

Tropical guide and naturalist at Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge on Isla Bastimentos set within Panama's Caribbean Bocas del Toro archipelago. My aim is to share my passion for birds and the awesome biodiversity of the tropics while spreading the word about the importance of environmental conservation.
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1 Response to Fisherbirds and their humans

  1. You raise so many good points about the problems with feeding birds (and other wildlife). As fun as it might be, we should give more consideration to the long-term effects on the animals. Thanks for this post.


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