A woman was “furious” when she discovered what a bird fed to her chick on a Florida beach.
Karen Mason, a volunteer for the National Audubon Society and a self-described “avid photographer,” had her camera on hand while she was bird stewarding — or making sure beachgoers weren’t disturbing wildlife — on St. Pete Beach on June 20. While she was working, she noticed a black skimmer feeding her chick something unusual and decided to snap a few photos of it.
“I knew it wasn’t a fish but couldn’t tell what it was until I got home and blew it up,” Mason, 64, told HuffPost.
She was horrified to discover that the bird was feeding her chick a cigarette.
Karen Mason The image Mason captured of a black skimmer feedings it chick a cigarette butt.
“I don’t know if the chick ate it as I got distracted talking to some visitors,” Mason explained. “Usually the chicks will pick up things like pieces of wood but don’t actually eat them, so I’m hoping [the chick] put it down.”
After Mason saw the disturbing images, she said she was “furious” and posted the pictures in several local wildlife groups and her own Facebook page. A few local news outlets picked up the story as well.
MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images via Getty Images A volunteer sifts through debris, picking out cigarette butts on Coastal Cleanup Day on September 15th, 2018 in Long Beach, California
According to Cigarette Butt Pollution Project, a campaign by San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health, most of the 5.5 trillion cigarettes made with filters each year end up being thrown away somewhere in the environment.
Jeff Greenberg via Getty Images Volunteers fill bags with cigarette butts found on Miami Beach at the ECOMB Big Sweep Plastic a decade ago.
Mason told HuffPost that cigarette butts are a huge problem on Florida beaches and they’re not just hazardous to wildlife.
“Even if you don’t care about the wildlife, you should be concerned about your kids picking them up,” Mason said, noting that if volunteers didn’t pick up all the litter that ends up on Florida beaches, they “would be totally trashed.”
But discarded cigarette butts aren’t the only issue Mason and other volunteers feel they need to educate the public about.
She said that when kids or dogs innocently run through flocks of black skimmers, it has bigger consequences to the birds than one might think because it causes the birds to fly and “use up a lot of energy.”
“It is very hot here right now and they go down to the water to try to cool off,” she said.
She also explained that these birds have several chicks and a skimmer can only catch one fish at a time to feed themselves, the chick and their mate.
“That means flying out to sea several times a day and they frequently have to fight off the seagulls who try to take their catch,” she said.
Mason said that when the birds fly away from their nest, it also gives predators like crows and seagulls a chance to take their chicks.
“[It’s] not easy being a bird mother,” Mason said.