Disturbing photo shows mother bird feeding her chick a cigarette butt

By Danielle Garrand

/ CBS News

Plastics pollution crisis worsens worldwide

Photographer and Audubon volunteer Karen Catbird Mason late last month captured what she believed were sweet photos of a mother bird feeding her chick on a Florida beach. However, she soon discovered it was instead a sobering picture of the impact of littering on wildlife.

Mason snapped the images of the black skimmers while educating people about the birds nesting on the beach — in her role as volunteer bird steward. "I only knew it was not a fish," she told CBS News. "I saw what it was after I got home and put it on the computer screen."

The two disturbing images feature a mother bird feeding her small chick a cigarette butt — and the baby walking with the item in its mouth. She explained that the mother bird likely picked it up in the water and — naturally — assumed it was a fish to feed her baby.

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Mason said she was "very angry" at the realization and posted the images on several conservation sites. She also posted the two images on Facebook.

"If you smoke, please don't leave your butts behind," read the caption accompanying the photo she posted on June 24 of the mother feeding baby. In a June 26 post with the image of the chick tottering along with the trash in its beak, Mason wrote "this Skimmer chick was offered a cigarette butt by it's parent. It's time we cleaned up our beaches and stopped treating them like one giant ash tray.#nobuttsforbabies." Both images garnered hundreds of shares on the platform

If you smoke, please don’t leave your butts behind

Posted by Karen Catbird on Monday, June 24, 2019

Mason told CBS news trash is "pretty common" in St. Pete Beach, where the images were captured. "Plastic bottles. Cigarette butts bottle caps, straws," she said. "People don't seem to realize how harmful they are. There is no reason for people to litter their butts all over the place."

Mason, who dedicates much of her time to educating people about wildlife, said she would educate someone who she witnessed littering on the beach as well. "I would let them know it is illegal to leaves butts on the beach and try to educate them about how harmful [it is]," she said. "I think a lot of people assume they are just paper and bio degradable."

Cigarette filters are typically created using plastic fibres (cellulose acetate), and take years to biodegrade in nature, the BBC reported.

"Unfortunately for many people, littering seems harmless, at worst it makes an area look untidy. However, heartbreaking images like reveal the true impact of littering on our wildlife," a spokesman for U.K.- based organization Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) told the outlet.

this Skimmer chick was offered a cigarette butt by it’s parent. It’s time we cleaned up our beaches and stopped treating them like one giant ash tray. #nobuttsforbabies

Posted by Karen Catbird on Wednesday, June 26, 2019

First published on July 3, 2019 / 12:28 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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