Rehabilitating Florida’s Birds

Students spend a weekend rehabilitating wild birds in the Florida Keys.

The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center is nestled among the mangroves along the shore of Tavernier, Florida, just off the Overseas Highway. You’d drive right past it if you weren’t looking for it.

As part of the Rollins Office of Community Engagement’s Immersion program, eleven students, ranging from first-years to seniors, ventured to the Florida Keys for a weekend of service-learning. This was the first Immersion during which students had the opportunity to directly address issues facing wildlife with hands-on service. It was also the first time Rollins had partnered with the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center.

The Center consisted of dozens of outdoor rehabilitation cages for a variety of bird species lining a wooden boardwalk that wound its way through the marsh toward the beach. Our first task was to learn about each bird at the Center, why it was injured, and how it was being helped.

Brown pelicans, ospreys, and laughing gulls with broken bills and beaks, broken wings, and missing eyes were being nurtured back to health from boat and fishing-related injuries. Barred owls, eastern screech owls, and broad-winged hawks that had been hit by cars were recovering, transitioning from the hospital to caged environment rehab. The center had recently received a grant to begin construction on a much-needed flight rehabilitation cage so patients could learn to fly again.

Our group learned the primary reason birds wind up at the center is human negligence and development. Florida’s expanding economy is eating up wild habitats, causing birds to come in contact with vehicles and litter. {image_4}Without the Center, these majestic creatures would die—either from their injuries in the wild or by euthanasia at the hands of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in an effort not to waste resources on animals with needs beyond the FWC’s capacity.

Volunteering at the center, students fed the pelicans, cleaned the beach, picked up garbage, cleaned cages, collected drift wood, moved fresh sand to the beach, and organized supplies. At the end of the day, Executive Director Joan Scholz presented the group with a certificate of appreciation for service and advised on how to make a difference for Florida’s wildlife in our community.