Now is a busy time at the Key West Wildlife Center

The saying that birds migrate for the winter is no joke and the Key West Wildlife Center is seeing that in full force right now.

Tom Sweets, executive director of Key West Wildlife Center, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on at the center.

This is the height of the busy season at the wildlife center.

Sweets said, “The reason for that is the migration. All of the migratory birds heading south for the winter, so we’re getting a lot of animals coming through right now.”

Hawks, pelicans and raptors are just a few birds that the center is seeing.

Sweets said, “We’re already getting pelican rescues, hawk rescues. Last night we assisted FWC officer in a boat with a large sea turtle rescue. It had been a boat strike. We were able to assist in getting the turtle rescued and into the boat and then we sent him up to the great folks at the turtle hospital in Marathon. The turtle is being treated up there.”

The Key West Wildlife Center is actively involved in wildlife rescues, as well as visits and nature trails. They are located at 1801 White Street in Key West.

The group handles wildlife rescue from Mile Marker 0 to 30.

Sweets said, “Our main focus is wild birds. That’s what our clinic is really set up for. We have a clinic and an aviary – a couple of aviaries actually – and a nature park connected to our center. We are sort of limited in hours now because we’re still recovering from hurricane damage.”

Call 305-292-1008 for current hours and to report sick or injured wildlife.

Sweets said, “We sort of split animal rescue with other organizations. The SPCA, they handle the domestic animals. They handle pets, cats, dogs, pet birds, that kind of thing. We focus on the native wildlife and then we sort of split our responsibility with the SPCA for the non-native wildlife.”

Key West chickens are another animal the wildlife center works with.

Sweets reminded, “It can get a little confusing, but that is a non-native species. They are not native wildlife. They’re a feral population. The city approached us since we were already set up to do wild birds. We keep them separate just to make sure there’s no cross spreading of diseases. We do rescues for sick and injured Key West chickens. We don’t do any trapping. I think a lot of people misunderstand that. We don’t trap the birds, but we’ll get sick and injured birds and if people want to get them off their property, they can trap them and bring them to us and then we provide care and we find them adoptive homes up on the main land.”

Peat Marsh Ranch is a 1200-acre free range ranch where the chickens can roam freely. The other area is just outside of Fort Myers that helps the Key West chickens.

A lot of juvenile pelicans are coming around this time of year as well.

Sweets said, “The first-year pelicans, they all have the brown heads. So whenever you see a pelican with a brown head, it’s a baby. It’s less than a year old. Their head starts turning grayish white after a year and then turns sort of a gold, yellow after a couple of years. We get a lot of first year juvenile pelicans that fly down here, mostly from the Carolinas where they are born. They fly down here. They don’t have a lot of skills and they can get into trouble. You’ll see a lot of them. I would just ask people to be on the lookout for young pelicans in strange places – backyards, parking lots, that kind of thing. They don’t get enough fish from hunting, they can get dehydrated and then they will end up acting strangely and end up in strange places.”

Try not to feed the pelicans at fish cleaning stations.

One pelican showed up with a torn pouch because fish bones had ripped up the tissue.

Sweets said, “They really only eat bait fish up to about ten inches in size. Anything larger than that would be a lot for them to deal with, but they are very hungry and they will grab a bone-in fish carcass with the bones exposed and that can really end up tearing them up.”

There is a rule that prohibits feeding pelicans at marinas and fish feeding stations.

Sweets said, “I just like to get the word out there every year at this time when the young pelicans are arriving. Just please don’t dispose of your fish waste to the pelicans.”

The great white heron is around as well and the center has rescued a few of those recently.

Sweets said, “Those birds are very high strung. They’re very aware of their surroundings, so it’s hard to get them. That’s why we do have a little gas-powered net gun that really comes in handy.”

Recently a white heron had a fishing hook and a lure stuck into his chest. He was trailing lines. Eventually officials were able to rescue him.

Sweets said, “He’s fine. We got all the fishing gear off of him and he’s been release already.”

Another white heron in Sugarloaf had a hook in his wing and a metal fishing leader that he was dragging behind himself. It took about a week to get him because he could still fly and he wasn’t showing up in any place that made him easy to catch. He ended up getting tangled up on a deck in someone’s backyard.

Sweets said, “We were able to get that bird rescued. It’s been quite busy.”

The northern harrier usually migrate through and don’t land in Key West, but one was found down recently.

Sweets said, “He was weak and dehydrated from the journey because some of these birds are coming all the way probably up west of the Mississippi river and then up into Canada, they’re starting their journey, so by the time they get here, they’re facing their most difficult task which is crossing the 90 nautical miles to Cuba from Key West. A lot of them are tired or worn down, they will stop here and try to refuel.”

A northern harrier is currently being treated at the Key West Wildlife Center for just that reason.

More than 1,400 birds are rehabilitated annually at the center. In this year alone, 2,039 chickens have been rehabilitated.

Sweets said, “It really has to do with where we’re located because we are at the end of the migratory pathway at least on the eastern seaboard.”

Fundraising is critical for the Key West Wildlife Center.

Sweets said, “There’s a lot going on right now. If people want to get involved in these kind of things and are generous enough to want to donate or become part of those programs, they can certainly check our website or give us a call. We appreciate everyone and all the organizations that donate to help us with our different fundraisers. We really appreciate the community support.”

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