[Caption/Credits above photo: In this Friday, June 19, 2015 photo, In this Friday, June 19, 2015 photo, an Osprey returns to its nest in Seahorse Key, off Florida’s Gulf Coast. In May, Seahorse Key fell eerily quiet, as thousands of birds suddenly disappeared, and biologists are trying to find the reason why. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Vic Doig said what was once the largest bird colony on the state’s Gulf Coast is now a “dead zone.” (AP Photo/John Raoux)]

SEAHORSE KEY, Fla. (AP) — The din created by thousands of nesting birds is usually the first thing you notice about Seahorse Key, a 150-acre mangrove-covered dune off Florida’s Gulf Coast.

But in May, the key fell eerily quiet all at once.

Thousands of little blue herons, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, pelicans and other chattering birds were gone. Nests sat empty in trees; eggs broken and scattered on the muddy ground.

“It’s a dead zone now,” said Vic Doig, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. “This is where the largest bird colony on the Gulf Coast of Florida used to be.”

For decades, Seahorse Key has been a protected way station for myriad bird species. It’s part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, which was 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 off Florida not dominated by human activity and development.

When the birds come to nest, so too do biologists and naturalists who study the different colonies. But this year, the birds’ exit has the state’s avian biologists scrambling for answers.

“It’s not uncommon for birds to abandon nests,” said Peter Frederick, a University of Florida wildlife biologist who has studied Florida’s birds for nearly 30 years. “But, in this case, what’s puzzling is that all of the species did it all at once.”

Clipboard04 By Jason Dearen

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