Living with Birds to Save Them—the Beginning of Audubon’s Everglades Science Center
The iconic pink birds of southern wetlands—roseate spoonbills—had all but disappeared from the U.S. when Robert Porter Allen, National Audubon Society’s first Director of Research, moved to the Florida Keys and established the Everglades Science Center in 1939. He set out to determine the cause of the pink bird’s disappearance, living among them in a tent for weeks at a time on islands in Florida Bay.
Almost 40 years after the Audubon Society helped stop plume hunting for the feather trade in Florida, other wading birds were recovering in numbers but the roseate spoonbill was not. In 1935, it was believed that Florida’s spoonbill breeding population had been reduced to only five nests on Bottle Key in Florida Bay. Allen’s research provided much needed insight on the behavior of this beloved species. He changed how scientists studied birds and began an investigation spanning 70 years of the spoonbill and its habitat in Florida Bay.
During the 1950’s and later years, Audubon expanded the Everglades Science Center’s focus to encompass many natural aspects of Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. A dedicated collection of talented Audubon researchers followed in Robert Allen’s wake. Dr. Jerry Lorenz, a trained fisheries biologist, currently heads up the Everglades Science Center’s studies of freshwater flow through the Everglades and into Florida Bay, uncovering the impacts that the diversion of water has had throughout the ecosystem.
The center’s experiments link changes in freshwater flow to decreased plant production and subsequent loss of small fishes. These small fishes are vital to the ecosystem, making up the food base for many higher predators such as game fishes, crocodiles, birds of prey, and wading birds such as roseate spoonbills. Audubon remains focused on restoring the Everglades so that species such as spoonbills can return to former abundances.