TAVERNIER, FlA.: Combining the annual pilgrimage of spring breakers to Florida and the vats of alcohol they consume can only mean trouble for the locals — human and winged ones alike.
Just a few weeks ago, in the Florida Keys’ Marathon, a great white heron and a brown pelican were found with open-ended beer cans shoved down over their heads, encircling their long, graceful necks.
The birds were very likely victims of “fun-loving” spring breakers, said Ray Olivencia, supervisor at the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, a hospital and rehabilitation center where the birds were brought.
“I guess they thought it was funny and wanted to take pictures, or something,” said Olivencia, who was at the sanctuary’s visitor center last week replacing an old boardwalk that lines aviary enclosures that house more than 100 birds.
But even more threatening to Florida’s wild bird population are fishermen who don’t realize the birds will try to eat or get caught in anything humans leave in their wake, such as fishing line, hooks and even the skeletons of fish that are filleted on shore.
Olivencia, who graciously stopped his work in the 80-degree temperatures to answer my questions, said he rescued a pelican with fish bones protruding from the side of its neck just the week before. He points to his upper arm to demonstrate how far he had to reach inside the bird’s mouth to remove the offending skeleton.
An estimated 40,000 visitors drop by the 5.5-acre refuge on Florida Bay for free, self-guided tours of about 20 different aviaries holding common and not-so-common residents that will either be released or remain at the center because they lack the physical prowess to survive in the wild.
“Keep Them Flying” is more than a motto for the world-renowned center officially started in 1991 by Laura Quinn, a former statistician, mathematics teacher, sailor, sculptor and innkeeper who dedicated her life to caring for the avian creatures she loved.
Quinn, who ran the nonprofit agency that still exists solely on donations, died Sept. 18, 2010, on her 82nd birthday, hours before a scheduled ceremony to rename the sanctuary in her honor.
Today, the center that rescues, rehabilitates and releases 1,000 birds annually from tiny warblers to great horned owls is a paradise not only for birds, but for birders, wildlife lovers and schoolchildren.
But as you take that awe-inspiring drive south along U.S. Highway 1 to Key West, don’t detour down the drive with the makeshift sign expecting to see a glitzy, high-tech zoo for birds. This is a bare-bones establishment that houses not only residents but wild visitors that blow in hoping for a handout.
Keep in mind the birds are the celebrities here and they don’t care much for humans who come empty-handed.
For almost two decades, hordes of brown pelicans, white ibis and laughing gulls — beggars from far and wide — landed in the center’s mangrove swamp and Florida Bay shoreline at precisely 3:30 every afternoon expecting to be fed. Never disappointing them, Quinn said she fed the wild birds to keep them away from marinas and fishing spots where they could get hurt.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put an end to the practice a few years ago, much to the chagrin of visitors who looked forward to wading through waves of pelicans, as large as small children, crowding the boardwalk.
Still, if you would be intrigued by Pickles, a white cockatoo that greets each guest that pulls down the dusty drive with loud and raucous cries, this might be the place for you.
To learn more about the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, at mile marker 93.6 on the Overseas Highway, U.S. Highway 1, visit http://fkwbc.org.
Other animals in the news:
Rummage Sale items — PAWSibilities, The Humane Society of Greater Akron, is accepting new and used household items for its annual Rummage Sale from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at Tucker Supply, 2800 Second St., Cuyahoga Falls.
The Rummage Sale will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 19 and 20 at the Stow-Kent Shopping Plaza, 4301 Kent Road, Stow. All proceeds go to help rescue and find homes for neglected, abused and abandoned animals at the shelter. Visit www.summithumane.org for information.
Rabies vaccination clinic — Vaccinations will be administered to dogs and cats from 4-7 p.m. Monday at Patterson Park Community Center, 800 Patterson Ave.
Veterinarians from PetGuards will provide rabies vaccines as well as other shots with no appointment necessary. Other services include: Cat annual booster shots, adult cat shots, kitten shots with wormer, feline leukemia shots for outdoor cats only, annual dog booster shots, adult dog shots, bordetella, puppy shots with wormer, microchip identification insertion and heartworm tests.
All pets must be on a leash or caged, and payment must be made by cash or check.
For more information, call the Summit County Health District at 330-926-5600.
Pets and Vets Craft Fair — 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 13 at the Unity Chapel of Light, 503 Northwest Ave., Tallmadge. The church’s Helping Hearts group is sponsoring the event to benefit Wags 4 Warriors of Brecksville, a nonprofit agency that works with local shelters and rescue groups to provide service dogs to veterans and PetGuards of Cuyahoga Falls. There will be a bake sale and vendors.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Pets-andVets-Craft-Fair/390153021082036.
Wild Times with Jungle Jack Hanna — Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s director emeritus, author and television personality, Jack Hanna, and several of his wild friends will entertain guests at 6:30 p.m. April 18 at the Akron Civic Theatre.
Reserved tickets are $22 and $32. Tickets at the $200 level include a guided hard-hat tour of the Akron Zoo’s newest exhibit, the Mike and Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge, set to open July 20. Tickets are available through the theatre’s box office at 330-253-2488, www.akroncivic.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000. All proceeds benefit the Grizzly Ridge exhibit. The show is sponsored by the Robert O. Orr and Annamae Orr Family Foundation and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan.
Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to email@example.com.