BY WHITNEY SESSA
It seems even Mother Nature is going through a recession.
After three years of enjoying increases in the wading bird population, the number is down in Everglades National Park.
From 2007 to 2008, the park's total wading bird population dropped by 29 percent, with seven of the nine species showing a decrease in numbers, according to an annual report issued by the South Florida Water Management District.
There is still an abundance of the birds that draw tourists and locals alike at the national park. But this marks the first season of an actual decline in numbers since 2005.
The years of increasing numbers of wading birds was halted by last year's drought, researchers said.
''Last year was pretty poor,'' said Mark Cook, the district environmental scientist who co-edited the annual report. ``We weren't really surprised, because you expect fluctuations of rainfalls and these kinds of issues. The birds fluctuate quite wildly naturally.''
Great white herons, small dark herons, great egrets, white ibis, wood storks, small white herons and glossy ibis all saw a decrease in population for 2008.
Great white herons experienced the largest reduction at 51 percent.
Only two species -- the roseate spoonbill and great blue herons -- jumped in numbers.
The wading bird population, surveyed annually in the park, allows researchers to help judge the park's overall health.
''Wading birds respond to what they find in the environment,'' said Sonny Bass, a coauthor of the report. ``They're a good indicator of the health of the system.''(read more)
Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park