The time for hawks in the Keys is coming to an end

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.

The migratory season for the hawks is coming to a close.

Sweets said, “We had we had over 100 broad winged hawks through our clinic. They must have had a very good breeding year, we had a very large number of them through probably our second biggest year ever for broad winged hawks coming through and thankfully, most of those patients were just weak and dehydrated from the long journey. Some of them are coming from Canada, some of them west to the Mississippi. So they have a long journey to get down here and actually a lot of a move on into Central and South America as well, but by the time they get here, the most treacherous crossing is that 90 nautical miles between Key West and Cuba. So we get a lot of them worn out at that point, but we get them into care and they bounce back quickly.”

A lot of brown pelicans also came through the area.

Sweets said, “It’s juvenile brown pelican, the ones with the brown heads not the white or yellow heads like the adults have but again, it’s pretty much the same thing although weak and dehydrated from migrating down. They don’t travel as far as some of the Hawks do, but they do come down from the Carolinas and farther north in Florida and some of some other areas and they end up pretty much stopping at Key West. They don’t really travel on into Central and South America, the brown pelicans and so we do get a lot of baby pelicans, first year pelicans here and they get into all kinds of trouble because they don’t have a lot of experience, mostly it’s dehydration and general weakness or emaciation, being underweight. But they do get into trouble with fishing lines, entanglements, they will dive on people fishing because some of them haven’t learned the real skills of hunting and they will see a fish on the end of the line and they will dive on it so that’s what we’re here to help. If somebody hooks a bird or needs assistance, they can certainly call us and we’ll come right out and see what we can do to help.”

The number for the rescue line is 305-292-1008.

Sweets added, “One other thing I might say we have had a lot of calls lately about ibis, the white Ibis. I’m sure everybody’s familiar with those birds. They’re a little bit smaller. They have the big, reddish curved beak. The juveniles are brown, and the adults are white. They do a little migratory traveling, too. So the Key West area and the Keys, we’ve got a lot of these white Ibis in and these birds get a lot of injuries. A lot of them do get hit by cars, we do have a lot of them that are limping, or that have leg injuries that have healed already. As long as an ibis or really any bird, sometimes this happens to the parents too, as long as they’re able to get around and they’ve got one good leg even if they have a limp, we like to let them do their thing. As long as they’re flighted, and they’re able to get around, they should be able to survive just fine. We’ve got a number of Ibis that have old breaks that healed and they don’t look so great walking, they will limp but the stress of trying to capture them can injure them more and if it’s not a fresh wound, if it’s an old wound, we’re not going to re-break a leg or re-set a leg. We do have some Ibis with special needs around but don’t panic when you see one of those birds, as long as they seem like they’ve got good body language and they’re moving around and flying, they can survive just as well as a bird that is not injured.”

How long will the pelicans stay around?

Sweets said, “You’ll know when you see the big V formations up in the sky. When the pelicans arrived, they come in those big V formations. They follow a leader down here, and when they’re getting ready to head back north, it’ll be sometime around the spring, not too far off. When we start getting our local songbirds when they start building nests in that early spring period, you’ll start to see these pelicans form up in these large formations of V’s and start heading north. We’ve probably got a good month of them being down here at full strength and then they will start dispersing. Some of them do stay here year round, but certainly not as many as we’ve got in town right now. We’re really packed with pelicans in Key West and the Lower Keys, but they will start moving out early spring, it really depends on temperatures and things like that. But it won’t be too long and our numbers will be going down again on those pelicans.”

Events help with fundraising and an upcoming one is It’s For the Birds.

Sweets said, “That is February 25 between 3pm and 530. That will be at West Martello Tower. That’s our big fundraiser for the year. That’s how we fund a lot of our wildlife rescue and rehabilitation programs. It’s a fun event. We’ve got live music, we’ve got food and drink. It’s all part of the donation for the admission. We’ve also got a raffle going on. It’s an island escape raffle that the great folks at Little Palm Island Resort and Spa were generous enough to donate.”

Advanced tickets for the fundraiser and tickets for the raffle can be found at the website below.

Sweets said, “We’ve got an event this Sunday at Mangoes. It’s a brunch at mangoes that’s going to benefit the Key West Wildlife Center that’s 12 to 3pm this Sunday, the 11th at Mangoes. We just started our campaign called Raise the Roof which is going to be for our new building. We’re going to be building a new clinic building and we are going to completely refurbish our wildbird aviary which is in need of some work as well. That’s a $2.4 million campaign and we’ve already raised over 2.2 million so we’re certainly going to be asking the public out there to sort of help us get over the final little hump there for our new clinic and that should all be coming within the next year. By next Pelican season, we should have a new building on our site. So yes, lots going on.”

Nesting season isn’t too far away, either.

Sweets said, “One of the things that we sort of look out for, again, it’s not the wild birds, but the feral chickens. They really sort of are on a cycle that’s related to the timing in the year and once we start seeing a lot of baby chicks with those feral chickens, we know that spring is not far away and we will be having our native wild birds and our local songbirds, our northern mockingbirds, our common grackles our boattail grackles, a lot of those songbirds. Really as soon as Pelican season starts to wrap up, we get the nesting season starting up.”

It’s not always the best thing to intervene with wild birds.

Sweets said, “It’s a big issue because there is a stage when baby birds after they’re hatched, and they spend some time in the nest, then they fledge and fledging really means they’re coming down from the nest and they’re going to be on the ground. The reason they do that is that after a certain age, it’s safer to for them to be on the ground. But that is where we get a lot of well-meaning people. It’s not anything that people are trying to do to hurt them or anything but they will grab these babies and the best place for them if at all possible is to remain on that ground for that period until they’re fully flighted. Now, some situations, yes, we have to intervene. In areas, maybe down on Duvall Street or areas where there’s really no cover or grass, if it’s all road and asphalt and sidewalk, that can be a problem. We certainly can help and intervene in those situations. But for the most part, we want to let those baby birds that have left the nest just stay on the ground whenever possible.”

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