April 5, 2009

Invasive swamphens evade Florida experts

Wildlife officials in Florida say they have been unable to drive swamphens, an invasive exotic bird, from the state.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Sunday state officials went after the purple swamphens in 2006. Game wardens were ordered to shoot the slow-flying birds. In the course of 2 1/2 years, officials in airboats killed nearly 3,200 colorful birds.

Officials said they were not able to contain the birds in South Florida, the newspaper reported.

We got there late, said Scott Hardin of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, acknowledging the bird has migrated to other parts of the state before the species could be killed off in South Florida. Eradication was a failure.

He estimated the current population at 2,000 to 3,000.

Julie Wraithmell, wildlife policy coordinator for Audubon of Florida, said swamphens have been seen preying on the chicks of water birds.

This is a real lesson learned for the state of Florida. We cannot become complacent when these exotics are first identified, she was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

The newspaper noted that biologists say the birds primarily are vegetarian, but they eat frogs, lizards and the eggs and nestlings of other birds. They also compete for territory with purple gallinules and other native marsh species.