"If you love the Everglades and you love birds, it is fantastic news."

By Meghan Overdeep
May 20, 2019
Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond/Getty Images

Environmentalists working to restore native bird populations to the Florida Everglades are celebrating a major win.

State environmental officials announced last week that last year's extraordinary increase in wading bird nests has produced bird numbers in South Florida's marshes not seen since the 1940s.

According to South Florida Water Management District's 2019 wading bird report, prepared along with Audubon Florida, the Everglades saw the creation of approximately 138,834 nests of white ibises, wood storks, roseate spoonbills, and other long-legged bird species last year—a number that surpasses 2009's banner nesting season by 51,270 nests.

"If you love the Everglades and you love birds, it is fantastic news," Drew Bartlett, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, told the Sun-Sentinel.

One "supercolony" near Interstate 75 in western Broward County alone established 59,120 nests, the most seen since the 1930s.

Water management officials are reportedly only taking a portion of the credit, claiming that an increase in fish populations caused by a favorable pattern of rainfall played the most critical role in the birds' resurgence.

"By a freak of weather, we ended up with the right amount of water at the right places," Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Aububon Florida, told the Sun-Sentinel. "And the birds responded."

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The birds of the west Broward supercolony, however, benefited from a restoration decision to route more water around their mile-long, teardrop-shaped island. Deeper water discouraged visits from predators such as raccoons and made it a more attractive spot for nests.

Though it's already clear that this year will be less successful for wading birds for weather-related reasons, experts believe that 2018's incredible population increase shows how the Everglades will respond once further restoration work to improve the flow of water (by filling in canals and removing levees) is complete.

"It highlights the resiliency of the Everglades," Mark Cook, bird biologist with the water management district, said in a news conference. "If we get the water right—the right amount at the right time—we can recover these species quickly."

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