On April 20, the birds disappeared from Seahorse Key, a small island approximately four miles southwest of Cedar Key that has a mandated period where humans are not even allowed to visit the island so that the birds can nest in peace. It's part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, about 21 miles west northwest of Crystal River, established in 1929 as a sanctuary for birds devastated by decades of hunting for their colorful plumage. Accessible only by boat, today it's a rare island not dominated by human activity and development.
Now, the island is littered with eggs that had been pecked but not crushed and a few bird carcasses, and scientists are trying to figure out what is going on. “It's quite strange,” said wildlife biologist Vic Doig of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It's eerie. Normally this island has thousands of birds. Now it's a deserted island.”
"Any rookery that's persisted for decades as one of the largest colonies is incredibly important," said Janell Brush, an avian researcher with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "It's quite a large colony. There had to be some intense event that would drive all these birds away."