Sunday, January 10, 2010

Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center

I stumbled across the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center simply by good fortune. Mother Ephemera, who has lived in Florida over forty years, asked to go to the Keys for her __th birthday (let's say it's a number rhyming with "eventyeth".)

After lunch in Key Largo our plan was to go for a glass bottom boat ride at John Pennekamp State Park, but cloudy weather forced a change in plans. So we decided to drive to Islamorada but were detoured by bumper-to-bumper traffic and turned around without ever reaching our destination. Instead we saw a sign for the Bird Center and stopped to visit. I was initially surprised to see what looked like a house with pelicans and egrets lining the roof. The first couple of cages looked empty and then we saw some hawks and owls munching on their lunches (gross). A boardwalk led to a mangrove swamp that was packed with birds: wood storks, great egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons and ibis; it was wading bird paradise. Further along however, pelicans blocked the boardwalk and seemed mean and ornery as they waddled back and forth looking for fish handouts. At first I was a little intimidated by these turkey-sized birds with enormous bills, but eventually I got used to pushing my way through the hordes. The boardwalk eventually ended at a swamp where a solitary Roseatte Spoonbill sat in the distance.

Father Ephemera zooms in on an egret

In between the Spoonbill and the boardwalk, was a spot where literally hundreds of pelicans waited to be fed. I was never quite sure why they were feeding these wild birds, but I do know it was quite a spectacle. Mother Ephemera, who spent much of her youth on a farm in Michigan, had no inhibitions about the voracious birds and she took her place on the feeding platform to throw fish parts to the hungry horde. When a bird got too aggressive, she simply kicked it away. It was enthralling for me to see my mom so in her element, laughing when a foot long bill disappeared inside the feeding bucket and ducking as pelicans glided inches from her hair.

If you should get a chance to visit, make sure it's around feeding time, for the fantastic feeding frenzy!

Mother Ephemera scolds a misbehaving Pelican

The serene side of the Wild Bird Center

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