Sick birds appearing on Central Florida beaches

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla.- The beauty of the northern gannet is exceeded only by the pathos of its predicament. 

"Basically, they're starving," said Tracy Frampton with Florida Wildlife Hospital.

Gannets are rarely seen in Brevard County, but they migrate far off the coast, heading to their breeding grounds on the coastal cliffs of Maine and Canada.

But in a tragedy that's not been seen here in more than 15 years, many are not making it. 

"We get calls every day that people are finding them, we call it beached; they're on the beach," Frampton said.

They are usually very exhausted, very thin, and it's just touch and go whether they're gonna make it or not.

The Florida Wildlife Hospital has received as many as 22 in one day - 85 in all since late March. They cannot save them all. And for a hospital that runs only on donations, it's hard.

Food and staff time are expensive. But they try.  "It's heartbreaking, especially the ones that come in so weak. It's very heartbreaking," Frampton said.

In a few cases, the northern gannets have regained their strength and can be released to resume their migration. But it's a hard journey. Biologists don't have all the answers why so many haven't been able to find or catch the fish they need to survive. 

The Florida Wildlife Hospital accepts donations through its website and Facebook page.

The northern gannet is a protected species; the Audubon Society considers the bird climate-endangered.