WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) -- Non-native snakes are increasingly taking a devastating toll on the bird populations in Florida's Everglades National Park, researchers say.
Researchers with the Smithsonian Institution say the park, home to hundreds of species of native wildlife, also has become the well-established home of the non-native Burmese python, a predator known to have an appetite for those native species, a Smithsonian release said Thursday.
Native to Southeast Asia, Burmese pythons were first found in the Everglades in 1979 as escaped or discarded pets, researchers say.
There is now an estimated breeding population in the tens of thousands, they say.
In a study of the snakes' predation of the area's native species, researchers found that birds, including some endangered species, accounted for 25 percent of the python's diet in the Everglades.
"These invasive Burmese pythons are particularly hazardous to native bird populations in North America because the birds didn't evolve with this large reptile as a predator," Smithsonian ornithologist Carla Dove said.
"Conversely, the python is able to thrive here partly because it has no natural predator to keep its numbers in check.
"The python's high reproductive rate, longevity, ability to consume large prey and consumption of bird species are causes for serious conservation and control measures," she said.