Roseate Spoonbill suffers from red tide

April 7, 2023

The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is part of and located at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Our address is 1495 Smith Preserve Way in Naples, FL. Please call 239.262.2273 for any wildlife assistance. We are a wildlife rehabilitation hospital that specializes in treating sick, injured and orphaned native wildlife in Southwest Florida.

A roseate spoonbill and water moccasin were among the ninety-eight animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital this past week. Other admissions include a great blue heron, three chuck-will’s-widows, a barred owl, a little blue heron, a cedar waxwing, a Brazilian free-tailed bat and a Florida red-bellied turtle.

Roseate Spoonbill with Red Tide Toxicosis

The roseate spoonbill was found in a yard in Bonita Springs. The bird was exhibiting several symptoms associated with red tide toxicosis. The spoonbill was unable to stand, had no blink response and its mentation was dull.

The treatment plan used with birds suffering the effects of red tide toxicosis was administered and included electrolytes to flush the neurotoxins from the bird’s body, Chinese herbs to support liver function and eye medication to prevent ulcers.

The spoonbill was placed in an animal intensive care unit on supplemental oxygen. The spoonbill was standing when staff went to administer a second round of treatments, but looked slightly painful so pain medications were added to the treatment plan.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Specialist, Erika Summers, monitors a roseate spoonbill after administering oral electrolytes. The spoonbill was admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital suffering from red tide toxicosis.

The spoonbill showed improvement the following day and was moved to a larger, more isolated area for continued recovery. Staff offered a variety of food items to encourage the spoonbill to eat on its own. A liquid nutritional formula made for piscivores (fish eaters) was added to the treatment plan.

By the fourth day at the hospital, the spoonbill had a full blink so the eye medications were discontinued. At the same time, the bird also ate its diet. At that point, handling was minimized in order to reduce stress on the spoonbill. The spoonbill continues to gain strength and recover in the bird room. Once a bit stronger, the spoonbill will be moved to an outside recovery enclosure for flight time and reconditioning. A bird can be anywhere when the full effects of red tide toxicosis render it completely debilitated.

It isn’t unusual to find a bird suffering effects of red tide in an area away from the ocean. Victims of red tide have been rescued from roads, parking lots and yards of inland gated communities.

If you see a bird that is unable to fly, please take the time to offer assistance. These animals will not survive without human assistance. Please call the wildlife hospital if you have rescue technique questions.

Injured Water Moccasin

The injured water moccasin was found by a university student involved in snake research. She thought the snake was going to die due to the severity of its injuries, so she safely contained the snake and took it home. She finally sought help for the snake when three days passed and the snake still hadn’t died. 

Von Arx Wildlife Hospital staff used proper personal protective equipment to handle the venomous snake to administer an injectable sedative. Once the snake was sedated, our staff vet performed a physical exam.

The snake’s jaw was fractured; due to the severity of the injuries, humane euthanasia was the only appropriate course of treatment. 

It is heartbreaking to consider the amount of suffering the snake endured for three days. To be very clear – reptiles experience pain; they suffer and deserve medical assistance as do all the injured, sick and orphaned animals cared for at the wildlife hospital. Reptile physiology is unique, so reptiles can sustain tremendous trauma but not die. 

Please, if you find an injured snake, call the wildlife hospital for information. Staff can evaluate the situation and offer guidance on how to help. All living creatures deserve consideration.

Teachable Moments

This past week a teacher at a local elementary school brought in forty-eight turtle eggs she had removed from a nest on the school’s soccer field. The teacher said she didn’t think the kids would stay away from the nest, so she removed the eggs to keep them safe. This situation created a teachable moment on many levels and unfortunately was a missed opportunity to educate the students at the school to respect wildlife. 

The teacher did not know what type of eggs she was handling.

State laws protect several species of turtle nests and their eggs; the nest should not have been excavated without properly identifying the species involved. The teacher didn’t realize that when turtle eggs aren’t handled properly, the embryo inside will detach from the shell and most likely cause the embryos to die. Speaking with the teacher brings hope that future loss of life will be avoided and this school will see the Conservancy as a resource for future wildlife situations. 

In contrast, the staff and students at Lavern Gaynor Elementary School showed an outstanding conservation ethic after a killdeer made her nest on their soccer field.

The entire school is invested in protecting the nest. Traffic cones were positioned to keep people away from the nest and activities in that area of the field have been suspended. Lavern Gaynor had a strong conservation ethic so it is terrific to see that ethic carrying on in the students at the school that bears her name.  

Recent Releases

A yellow rat snake, and eastern screech owl, a ring billed gull, a laughing gull, a barred owl, a downy woodpecker, three mourning doves and a gopher tortoise were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website at to learn about opportunities to get involved. If you are unable to give of your time as a volunteer, become a member or donate. Your support will help the Conservancy continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. 

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see