If you’re strolling along Indian Rocks Beach this weekend, keep an eye out for the blue bird of unhappiness.
It’s a white ibis that someone painted.
"Somebody decided that was a fun thing to do," Shelley Vickery, director of the Birds In Helping Hands Wildlife Rescue in Seminole, said Thursday.
Her organization, after seeing pictures of the blue bird on Facebook, started hunting the ibis to try to scrub the paint off. They’re worried that it contains something toxic that might affect the ibis when it preens its feathers.
White ibis adults are supposed to be mostly white, not blue. They have black-tipped wings, a red face and red legs. Their most distinctive feature is their pink, down-curved bill, which they use to probe for food.
Their diet consists of crabs, crayfish, fish, snakes, frogs and insects. While they prefer marshes and coastal waters, many in Florida have been displaced by development. Most Floridians see flocks of ibis stalking suburban lawns and dodging cars, not wading through mangroves.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Bill Brooks spotted the pictures of the blue ibis on a Facebook group about collecting sea shells after a co-worker passed along the tip. At first he wasn’t sure whether this was a prank or a sign of science at work, so he reposted the photos to a Facebook group that snaps pictures of birds that have been banded for research.
"There are some cases where you squirt a bird with a little dye to mark it as part of a study," said Brooks, an expert on wood storks. However, the fact that it was colored blue all over indicates that the dye was, as he put it, "malicious."
This is far from the first time someone in Florida has thought it clever to give some wildlife a makeover. Brooks said he’s seen seagulls that had been spray-painted or had fluorescent surveyor’s tape tied to their feet.
In May, a Central Florida man was arrested after a gopher tortoise turned up painted red. The man said he’d dumped a five-gallon bucket of paint and concrete down a hole and didn’t realize it was a tortoise burrow.
Two years ago, so many painted animals were turning up around the state — including an ibis in West Palm Beach that had been colored bright orange — that Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials put out a plea to the public to stop.
"Please keep your paint on the canvas and off of wildlife," FWC officials wrote on Facebook in 2016. "White ibis are protected in Florida. Not only is it illegal to paint them, but it is cruel to paint any wildlife."
The thick orange paint on the West Palm Beach ibis had seeped so deeply into the bird’s feathers that it affected its ability to fly. A wildlife rehabilitation specialist found it tough to scrub out, and had to rely on the bird molting and growing new, unpainted feathers.
Unlike in the modern world, ancient Egyptians considered the ibis a sacred bird. To them it represented Thoth, the god of wisdom and knowledge.
Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.