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Sanibel's new urban legend

By Staff | Mar 26, 2014

When approached for comment, the bird sped out of sight. Its top speed is unknown.

It’s fitting that Sanibel’s newest urban legend literally stops traffic in its wake.

There’s Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and myriad other infamous urban legends with supposed sightings or scientific findings throughout the world. The island has even had a healthy dose of supposed Florida panther and other animal sightings.

Now there’s the mysterious traffic-stopping bird on Sanibel, known by some as “Suicidy” for its propensity to jump in front of cars on Periwinkle Way.

The bird has reportedly leapt onto and in front of moving vehicles, forcing them to come to a screeching halt and almost cause major accidents. It’s been known to even peck at the occasional car tire or sun roof, whether it be mocking or playful, no one knows. Some Islanders believe it actually enjoys stopping traffic.

“I have seen him many times,” wrote Cecilia Caldwell on the Islander newspaper’s Facebook page. “All the other birds on Sanibel call him showoff. He loves to stop traffic.”

"Suicidy" often leaves behind devastation on Periwinkle Way.

It’s been confirmed through visual evidence that the bird is indeed a cattle egret by virtue of the dark plumage across its neck and head, according to multiple local bird experts. However, there are conflicting reports on the island as to whether this is a single cattle egret or a flock of birds acting in kind to perpetrate the horrific afternoon traffic jams.

“It’s a very odd behavior,” said Phyllis Gresham, who leads bird walks on the Bailey Tract and for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation in addition to volunteering for the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge. “We rarely see cattle egrets out of the Refuge, now occasionally I do. Does that mean there’s more or they’re dispersing themselves out here?”

“That I can’t be sure of,” said Karl Werner, who leads bird tours and workshops throughout the island. “I’ve seen it along Periwinkle. My guess is it’s a single bird because that’s not their habitat there.”

He further expounded upon his theory.

“To see one there is unusual. I’ve never seen more than one at a time, often they’re in groups, they tend to prefer a more grassy habitat. He probably has buddies that are not too far away because they tend to be a flock bird.”

Local Audubon bird walk guide Hugh Verry believes the major traffic issue is people think they will run over the bird.

“If you just go slowly it’ll move,” he said. “I’ve never heard of one being hit.”

“It’s not really the safest place for them though!” said Gresham.

One thing is certain: Islanders may never know the true identity of this bird (or birds).

“The one thing is I get a lot of questions that start with why?” said Werner. “Generally those don’t have a definitive answer. There’s theories supported by a lot of evidence, but I don’t know that we have definitive proof. You can speculate and come up with a theory, but the danger is you’re putting human emotions and logic into an animal. They don’t necessarily think like we do.”