Bird lovers take aim at deadly spikes

CLEARWATER

In the world of birds vs. bird control spikes, every story seems more gruesome than the last.

In one, a spike tears through the webbing of a bird's feet.

In another, a dead pelican hangs from the top of a boat piling, the pouch of its bill snagged on a steel prong.

Larry O'Brien of Dunedin watched in horror as a seagull swooped low and tried to land on a pole in Anclote Key River Park.

"The spike proceeded to tear his wing right off his body," said O'Brien, 60, a boater and birdwatcher. "I got the bird and took it down, but it had to be euthanized because it was suffering."

Officials at the Clearwater Audubon Society and the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary are trying to get the message out to local park rangers, marina managers and waterfront residents: Birds and metal spikes don't mix.

The metal spikes are usually used to deter birds from roosting on top of poles and pilings, building nests, squawking in the middle of the night and splattering droppings all over the surface below. But the steel spikes that jut out 3 to 10 inches can be harmful to birds, marine bird activists say.

"We really don't want to have these birds unnecessarily hurt when it's something we could easily prevent," said Barb Walker, conservation advocacy chair at the Clearwater Audubon Society.

People don't have to resign themselves to signs and decks covered in feces, Walker said.

There are several less hazardous and environmentally friendly alternatives, including black plastic cones that prevent the birds from roosting but are not sharp enough to put them at risk. There are also bird "spiders" with thin, stainless-steel wire arms that are too light for birds to stand on. And, of course, there are always visual deterrents such as scarecrows or plastic birds of prey.

Ralph Heath, director of the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, said his volunteers find birds with spike-related injuries about once a month.

Most of the injuries happen to young birds that are new to flying, Heath said. Fledglings are clumsy as they learn to improve their aim and balance while flying. They can unintentionally run into or land on a pole covered in metal spikes.

"Young pelicans can make a missed landing, they can slip and catch their pouch on a spike, and it will rip their pouch all the way open," Heath said.

Some Tampa Bay area park managers are already heeding the call for safer bird deterrents.

Frederick J. Buckman, director of Pasco County Parks and Recreation, said Walker contacted him two weeks ago about the dangers of metal spikes. The next weekend, park officials removed all the spikes. They intend to install new, bird-friendly pole caps in coming weeks, Buckman said.

Protecting avian wildlife isn't the only reason to remove the prongs. The metal bird spikes are actually illegal — sort of.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse, it's all right to install metal prongs on a pole. But if they "start to have a physical effect on the birds" — if, for example, a bird is found impaled on a spike — the prongs must be removed immediately, he said.

At that point, not removing the spike would be a violation of the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Morse is not sure whether anyone has ever been prosecuted for leaving up bird spikes, but it could happen, he said.

Heath said he hopes to see those kinds of arrests in the near future.

"If a person doesn't like to have birds around, they should get the hell out of town," Heath said. "You can't come down to the birds' territory and then try to chase them away."

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4224.

Fast Facts

How to help

To report an injured bird: If you find a bird that has been injured by a spike, call the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary at (727) 391-6211, or visit the sanctuary at 18328 Gulf Blvd. in Indian Shores.

For more information: To learn more about bird-safe deterrents for poles and pilings, visit clearwateraudubon.org or call the Clearwater Audubon Society at (727) 442-9140.

Bird lovers take aim at deadly spikes 07/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 6:36pm]

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