The B.A.R.B. at SongStar

Zellwood, FL
by Cheri Pierce

American White Pelicans at Zellwood

The White Bird Gang at ZellwoodThe northeast portion of Lake Apopka, which was drained years ago so that vegetables could be grown in the rich muck of the lake bottom, is in the process of undergoing restoration. The state of Florida had flooded a large portion of this land in preparation for its return to the lake. The flooded fields attracted thousands of birds, including migrating White Pelicans and endangered Wood Storks. So many birds were attracted to the area that an inland record was set for the area's annual Christmas Bird Count. In late November, dead birds begin turning up, and as the death toll steadily increased, a study was begun to try and determine what was causing the deaths.

Dead birds included White Pelicans, Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, gulls, cormorants and several Bald Eagles. Several reports have been made of White Pelicans literally dropping out of the sky dead by the time they hit the ground.

Feeding Frenzy at ZellwoodIt is thought that chemicals, used by the farmers, have remained in the soil. Run off from the flooded fields drained into Lake Apopka contaminating the fish in the lake and in the canals that surround the fields. The chemicals accumulate in the fat of animals and birds so that at the top of the food chain they can be found at hundreds or thousands of times the levels found in the muck. For years alligators in the lake have shown sexual and reproductive problems that have been linked to pesticides.

The land is being drained to encourage the remaining birds to disperse, but dead and dying pelicans are now being found throughout Central Florida, and it is thought that they are birds that came from the Lake Apopka area. The Florida Audubon Society is notifying biologists in areas where the birds are known to breed that the birds were exposed to high levels of organochlorines. That family of chemicals includes DDT.

Over 500 dead birds have been found in the Zellwood farms area. That number does not include birds found elsewhere in the state. Zellwood has been closed since the findings were published, until it can be determined how to proceed with the cleanup and restoration of the area.

B.A.R.B. at SongStar

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Copyright  1999 by Cheri Pierce and Richard L. Becker