Photographer Karen Mason’s day at St. Pete Beach, Florida, took a distressing turn when she reviewed her photos. Upon closer examination, she noticed a mother bird feeding her chick a cigarette butt, one of the most common forms of litter globally, surpassing plastic waste.
“I happened to see this one parent feeding her chick,” Mason remarked. “I knew it wasn’t a fish but didn’t realize it was a cigarette butt until I blew it up on my home computer.”
As an Audubon Society volunteer, Mason felt compelled to raise awareness about cigarette butts’ dangers to wildlife and the environment.
Approximately 4.5 trillion discarded cigarette butts each year take years to decompose and release harmful toxins such as arsenic into the environment.
Mason hopes her pictures will inspire people to carry pocket ashtrays and take responsibility for their waste, ensuring the well-being of these precious birds and the natural world they inhabit.
“I go out a couple of times a week to educate the public about the skimmers,” Mason shared. “I always take my camera as I am an avid photographer.”
To responsibly take care of cigarette butts, always use a portable ashtray and never litter them. Dispose of cigarette butts in designated receptacles and ensure they are thoroughly extinguished to prevent fires.
If no bins are available, carry a sealable container to store them until disposal safely. Be a role model by educating others about the importance of proper disposal and participate in cleanup events to help keep the environment clean and safe from cigarette butt pollution.
As for the chick, Mason remains hopeful that it didn’t consume the harmful butt, and she urges others to think twice before carelessly discarding their cigarette waste.
“I was enraged just seeing that poor chick carrying that thing around that I sent it to several wildlife groups I belong to,” Mason recalls. “I do not know if [the baby chick] ate it. A lot of times, I have seen them with a piece of wood, and they just hold it for a while and then put it down. I’m hoping that’s what he did.”
Fun Facts About Black Skimmers
- Unique Bill: Black skimmers have a distinct bill, with the lower mandible longer than the upper one. This specialized bill allows them to “skim” the water’s surface while flying, catching fish and other prey.
- Cooperative Nesting: Black skimmers often form colonies and engage in cooperative nesting, where adults work together to protect the nesting area and care for the chicks.
- Noisy Communicators: These birds are quite vocal and use various calls to communicate with their colony members and potential threats.
- Unusual Sleeping Posture: Black skimmers sleep with their heads tucked behind their wings, which gives them a unique and distinctive appearance.
- Exceptional Fliers: Skimmers are skilled and agile fliers, capable of flying just above the water’s surface with their lower bill in the water, hunting for food.
- Global Distribution: Black skimmers can be found along coastal regions of North, Central, and South America, as well as in parts of Africa and southern Europe.
- Synchronized Feeding: When hunting in groups, black skimmers display synchronized feeding behavior, creating a mesmerizing spectacle as they skim the water together.
- Long Lifespan: In the wild, black skimmers can live for more than 20 years and survive threats like habitat loss and pollution.
- Nocturnal Feeders: These birds are primarily crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours.
- Highly Protective Parents: Black skimmers fiercely protect their chicks and use various distraction displays to deter potential predators from their nesting sites.