Pelicans have definitely been migrating to the Keys

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

We are deep into the migratory season for brown pelicans.

Sweets said, “It’s actually getting very close to a record season. We’ve had a record hawk season, more hawks than we’ve had in quite a few years. They’ve had a very good breeding season, especially the broad winged hawks. We’ve had about 80 hawks in a month’s time through the center and thankfully most of them are just weak and dehydrated and they just need some fluids and some food and get them back up to speed and then get them released. So that’s been pretty busy. Then we’re really getting into the height of Pelican season right now. We’re sort of getting near our second highest number of pelicans through here. The pelicans seem to have had a very good breeding season, as well. So we’ve got a lot of those first year pelicans, the one with the brown heads, not the adult with the white heads, but the brown-headed pelicans. They’re all coming into town now and they just don’t really know what they were doing. They were just hatched in the spring and they come down here and they get into all kinds of trouble or they miss too many meals. They get dehydrated, they get weak. They don’t have a lot of experience dodging fishing lines, fishing poles. So the older adults learn about those kinds of things. The young ones don’t really know. So we do get a lot more young brown pelicans hooked with fishing gear, fishing hooks. We do get them showing up in all kinds of places where they’re not supposed to be. It’s been busy. Our clinic is packed right now with the pelicans. The hawks are starting to sort of wane from the height of the season, but we still have quite a few of them as well. So it’s busy around here.”

How long will the pelicans be around?

Sweets said, “They start just about really coming in around Christmas time and they’re here until the early spring. A lot of them will start heading north. Some of them do hang out all year, but we get a real influx of the first year babies on their first migration down during the winter. They’re coming from the Carolina coast, some are born in Florida, the majority of them are coming from farther up north, they come down for their first migration for the winter and then once the temperatures start getting warm again, they will range back up north. In fact, some of them even reported going up the Mississippi River. You can get them very high up even into the Great Lakes during the spring and summer but in the winter months, they all head south down into Florida just like a lot of the snowbirds.”

There have been some birds hit by vehicles recently.

Sweets said, “We had an Osprey hit on US 1 a couple days ago. We had a brown pelican hit on Palm Avenue in Key West just yesterday. So just be aware a lot of these birds are especially active now. In fact, the Ospreys are really just about to start their breeding. They start early with their nesting, and that will make them very active gathering nest materials by the side of the road. So just be on the lookout when you’re on the highways and byways. As they say, give wildlife a break and try to obey posted speed limits and keep your eyes open for wildlife of any type out near the roads because it’s really an active season.”

Also be aware of pelicans with fishing gear.

Sweets said, “Make sure you clean up, don’t leave lines or hooks around. Don’t leave bait boxes around. We just had to rescue a pelican with a bait box in his pouch and a big sponge, like a boat cleaning sponge. We’ve had a lot of fishing line and hook entanglements. Sometimes these things can’t be avoided. But there are some things you can do just to try to minimize that. If you can pick a spot where there’s not a lot of pelicans around, which can be hard sometimes, but there are areas like down at the Truman Waterfront, at Admirals Cut, there’s a lot of pelicans that that actually sleep overnight on the pilings out there. It’s a very popular fishing spot. So if you are out there fishing, just try to avoid hooking pelicans. If you do hook them that that does happen and that’s what we’re here for. You can always call our rescue line at 305-292-1008 and we’re happy to come out and help with those situations.”

Nesting season will also be on the way.

Sweets said, “The Osprey sort of kick it off, they’re the ones that really start the early nesting and that’s why you will see them down by the side of the road or on the ground collecting nesting material. So the Osprey sort of kick it off. The other ones will come later, the songbirds that will be more once we get into the spring. Once we get the hawks and the pelicans, once they start heading north again, then the other birds will start nesting.”

The Wildlife Center has a number of festivals coming up.

Sweets said, “The Rock Island Festival, the Mile Marker Zero Festival. We’re very fortunate to be one of the nonprofits that’s been chosen to benefit from the Mile Marker Zero Fest and the Rock Island Music Fest. The Rock Island Music Festival will be the 17th to the 20th and then the Mile Marker Zero Music Fest will be the 23rd to the 27th. Most of those will be taking place at the at the amphitheater down at Truman Waterfront. So go on out, enjoy the music and know that you’ll be supporting local nonprofits and Key West Wildlife Center as well.”

The Wildlife Center helps more than 1,400 birds every year, including the Key West chickens.

Sweets said, “It’s been busy. We’ve had some injuries and leg injuries, hit by vehicles again. So I guess the big message with the chickens right now would be just keep an eye out, obey posted speed limits. They’re there for a reason. You don’t need to get anywhere in a terrible hurry on this island and just give them a chance to get out of the way because I’d say the biggest issue we’ve had lately is hit by vehicle chickens. We’ve had not a lot of youngsters right now out there. Even though they do have hatchings year round, really takes off again in the spring with the other native songbirds. So there’s not too many babies. We have few coming in, a few chicks, maybe stepped on at a restaurant or separated from the parents for too long of time, or not able to keep up. So we’ve had some of those, but most of it’s been foot, leg injuries, that kind of thing. So again, it’s a big message of the season now is just slow down around town and keep your eyes open for animals in front of the vehicle and try to give them a chance to get out of the way.”

Volunteers and donations are always needed.

Sweets said, “Both of those can be achieved through our website, you could email us that’s probably the easiest way with how busy we are with the telephone rescue calls. It’s probably easiest to just email us about volunteer inquiries. Then also you can you can go online on the website, there is a little portal there where you can certainly donate. So all that can be done through our website and we look forward to serving the community in 2024, for sure.”

For more information, click here: