Bird Racks in the Gulf of Mexico

A similar photo of this same bird rack appears in the 1911 article below. Image courtesy of Henry Fletcher.

Novel Method of Obtaining Guano (1911)

This article appeared in a 1911 Port Richey Co. brochure.

A most interesting thing is the manner in which some of the farmers of this section get their supply of fertilizer at little or no cost. Port Richey proper is a mile or so inland from the Gulf, but in time will extend its border to its very shores; so, then, we will say that out from Port Richey the waters of the Gulf, except in the boat channels, is of comparatively shallow depth and at some points from four to five miles from shore the water is only four to six feet deep with clean sandy bottom and clear as crystal. The farmer who desires a supply of guano first finds a good well-located shallow spot off shore. He then builds a sort of scaffold, supported above the water by suitable poles or braces. He then covers it over with rough flooring and leaves it to the seagulls, water turkeys and other sea birds as a roosting place. At the end of a few months the farmer goes out to the roost and brings in from 7 to 10 tons of sea fowl guano, the best on earth and worth $60.00 per ton. These roosts are the resorts, day and night, of thousands upon thousands of sea birds. The usual dimensions of the roosts are 20 x 100 feet and cost but little as the entire structure is made of poles supporting a floor of slab lumber which may be had almost for the hauling away from the mill.

The Bird Racks (1962)

This article appeared in Tales of West Pasco by Ralph Bellwood.

To many of us who have lived here over a period of years, many of the simple things we “reflect” on may seem silly, but more and more are we conscious of the fact that to many new residents up and down the coast a lot of the common-place things arouse their interest to the point that they ask many questions about them. For instance, hundreds of newcomers have asked about the “bird racks,” as we know them, out in the Gulf. Many might understand the term Rookery better for these lonely platforms off shore. That is what they are. They were not put their by bird lovers simply as a resting place for the birds, but for the purpose of gathering a valuable product which brings a high price in the fertilizer market. Thousands of birds roost on these platforms night after night, leaving their droppings or excretion, which dries, until layer after layer builds up to a thickness of several inches. Several times a year the owners of the “racks” go out and harvest this fertilizer which is high in nitrogen as well as other chemicals used in commercial fertilizer.

We will never forget the trip out with a couple of men back in 1924 or ’25. Tom Hill and Charlie Stevens were the men and the boat was an old flat bottom scow named the Kaxa. We had been out a couple of days and almost finished gathering the fertilizer. Just one more rack somewhere off shore from Hudson was needed. There was a strong off shore wind blowing which kept the old Kaxa spanking each wave that came by. Somehow, whoever tied up at the rack didn’t do a good job of it. (We will take the blame for it.) Anyway, we were busy with our shovels when one of us looked up and the Kaxa was loose about a hundred feet away, broadside to the wind, under the way straight out in the Gulf. Charlie Stevens said he couldn’t swim and Tom Hill said he was subject to cramps, so it was up to the writer to go overboard. Never have we gotten out of boots and clothes as quickly as we did that cold day in February, and plunged headfirst into the Gulf. It was a long, hard swim of about a third of a mile. After pulling our body on deck and casting an anchor overboard we were as near exhausted as we have ever been. Looking up between puffs we saw Tom Hill spraddled out on several planks he had ripped from the rack. There was rejoicing when we got back to the rack and headed for home. Never has the good earth felt better than it did when we went ashore at Sims Park. Our first and last trip to gather “Guano” as the darkies in Virginia call it.

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