The wet weather affects our feathered friends, too

Tom Sweets, executive director of Key West Wildlife Center, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about helping wildlife. 

The wet weather certainly makes things tricky for rescues. 

Sweets said, “It’s been wet so yes, we’ve had a lot of activity that is for sure. Usually during a storm it’s relatively quiet for rescue calls, but then as soon as that everything settles down then our phone starts ringing off the hook and it’s been no exception this morning actually the last few days and sort of corresponding with really the height of baby bird season as well. So a lot of things can happen when these rains start hitting just with nesting, sometimes nests can get knocked down, birds can leave the nest early. So we just get all kinds of things especially if you couple the bad weather with with the height of baby bird nesting season for sure.”

Where do birds take shelter during storms? 

Sweets said, “Birds across the whole spectrum, they’re pretty good about getting through a storm. They will hunker down. The shore birds, they will either just sort of find a safe spot, a lot of them do move inland a little bit. A lot of the beach dwelling shore birds will move inland if it’s a really bad storm and cormorants those kind of near shore birds they will do the same thing sometimes. They will ride it out to a certain extent and they do get pounded around a little in the surf but even they will come out of the water and move inland a little bit if it gets really bad. Birds as a species, they’re pretty well prepared to handle bad weather. If we get high winds that can knock nests down, generally baby birds and their parents will just take shelter in the nest itself. Those are well built for drainage, they will naturally drain the way they’re built and the parents will just sit atop the babies a lot of times to get through the storm. Every now and then we’re getting nests knocked down, birds knocked out of the nest that kind of thing.”

This is baby bird season, so it’s possible to find them on the ground, but a lot of times, that’s okay. 

Sweets said, “Our biggest issue at this time of year is yes, it’s when a baby bird fledges. When they’re old enough they will fledge and they will leave the nest, they will come down and they will be on the ground. It looks differently across the board for the different species like the songbirds, the northern mockingbirds and the grackles, they will come down and they will be hopping around, making all kinds of noise, squawking, and their parents will sort of follow them around and continue feeding them. The doves on the other hand, the doves and pigeons will come down and their job is just to sort of remain motionless and camouflaged. So you’ll have some species of the songbirds jumping around running around, and then you’ll have some species of the doves just sitting there, and they’re not even going to move if they’re approached for the most part because they are trying to use their camouflage to protect themselves. So yes, that is our big issue right now ,our baby birds on the ground. Now sometimes, yes, downtown down on Duvall Street, we get a lot of white crown pigeons nesting and when those babies fledge, sometimes they’re fledging right into the street or the busy sidewalk, and that can put the parents off, it can sort of keep the parents from coming down and being able to feed them. So in certain situations, we do need to get involved and get these birds rescued. In most of the situations, though, birds on the ground, that’s going to be just a normal situation and it’s nothing to worry about. It’s a period that they all have to go through and they will spend three, four, even five days on the ground sometimes before they’re fully flighted and off with the parents. Try not to intervene. Intervening should be the last thing that is done. I mean, occasionally it does need to be done. But most of our job right now is talking people down about just making sure the birds are in a safe place and if they’re not in a safe place, they can actually be moved to a safer place. Our rescue line at 305-292-1008, we can certainly help figure out a situation. We found it very helpful if people can get a cell phone picture of the birds, and then we can text them and we can get a look at what we’re dealing with. That really helps determine the age of the bird, how far along they are and sometimes the babies do fall out of the nest before they’re ready to leave and those are the tiny little guys. That can happen after a storm as well. So anybody has any birds on the ground that they’re not sure about, just give us a call, and we can talk you through it.”

It’s a common misconception that if humans handle baby birds the mom will reject them. 

Sweets said, “It’s not true. Especially with the species that we’re dealing with, it’s not going to put the parents off at all. Now I’m not saying go out and handle them or pick them up. But sometimes if you need to get them out of the road, or if they’re in a dangerous situation, they can be picked up and placed right back into a safe yard or somewhere that’s got a little bit of cover. They don’t need a lot of space, but if they’re in the middle of the road, they certainly can be moved and it’s not going to affect the parents coming to feed them at all.”

Progress on the aviary has been made at the wildlife center. 

Sweets said, “I can announce that actually, really the first time on your show is that we have met our goal. As of yesterday, we’ve met our $2.4 million goal. One of our locals, actually got us over the top with a donation. So I do have to let the public know that we have met our $2.4 million goal. We will certainly accept any donations going forward. But the goal has been met. So that’s exciting. Our wildbird aviary should be done. It’s already getting a lot of work completed and that should be done by probably the end of August, if everything works right. Then our new modular clinic should be arriving sometime in August and that should be up and running sometime next year. So yes, exciting, lots going on. I’ll tell you that not just all the birds, bird calls, but also we’ve got all kinds of things happening on the grounds and we are trying to be open on the weekends. It’s a little hard with, especially now we’ve got a lot of heavy equipment on our property. So it’s hard to have people coming through, but we are trying to be open on the weekends and we are open some days of the week. I’d say if people want to check to come down and visit the indigenous park, we’re trying to have that open, but just give us a call and we can let you know what that’s looking like.”

We’re just about finished with migration season.

Sweets said, “It’s down to a trickle, really, I mean, we still are getting some birds. This season is a little bit longer than really what you would get in the fall. This stretches out a little bit longer just because I think the cold in the fall and winter migrations, I think the cold really drives a lot of birds moving at the same time. At this time of year when they’re all moving back to north to have nests, I would say a majority of them have passed through but we still are getting some stragglers. We do still get some birds of prey coming through, occasionally we even get some of the small warblers but yes, for the most part, the main part of the migration is over. But the springtime, summer, it does stretch out a lot longer than the fall I like I said, I think cold is the real motivator to get the birds moving there.”

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