Published: November 2010
BIRD BY BIRD in The Florida Keys  

by Sharon Spence Lieb

In the southeastern United States, we’re fortunate to live among many bird species in our neighborhoods. Walking near my Charleston, S.C., home, I’m continually delighted by the sight of majestic great blue herons, angelic snowy white egrets, squadrons of pelicans, honking Canada geese, worm gobbling robins and noisy LBB (little brown birds) twittering in weekly tree meetings.

On a recent trip to The Florida Keys, I met folks who adore birds, investing their time, money and energy caring for them, bird by bird.

At the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier, founder Laura Quinn and her team report, “Just in one year, hundreds of native and migratory sick, injured and orphaned wild birds were admitted to our center. All received the best medical care available, and nearly half were healthy enough to be released back into the wild.”

Check out this family of lucky birds, each one treated with devotion at the center: 93 mourning doves, 71 double-crested cormorants, 63 brown pelicans, 57 laughing gulls, 35 common grackles, 26 screech owls and 21 broad-winged hawks. A different version of that Christmas song Partridge in a Pear Tree, isn’t it?

On a sunny afternoon, I walk among hundreds of recovering birds at the center, screeching and flying happily from tree to tree. Each afternoon, some 300 pelicans hungrily slurp up fish the staff doles out. Do visit this wonderful bird nirvana, and contribute any donation you can. Don’t forget to thank Laura and her wildlife team for caring, bird by bird.

The next nature lover I meet is Captain Bill Keogh, author of The Florida Keys Paddling Guide. Captain Bill has lived in the Lower Keys for two decades, and he’s a much lauded nature guide, science educator and professional photographer.

He leads us on a peaceful backcountry kayak adventure in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge around No Name Key. Paddling into Bogie Channel, we slide our kayaks through a narrow tunnel of giant tangled mangrove roots. Blue crabs scuttle in the shallow water, and great white herons and bald eagles flap overhead.

“This is my special place,” Captain Bill says quietly. “A pristine universe, home to dolphins, sea turtles, tarpon, snook, barracuda and dozens of bird species. Isn’t it enchanting?”

Resting quietly inside the tunnel of giant roots, we feel hugged by Mother Nature, literally. Don’t have a clue where we are. Don’t care a bit.

“I know you don’t want to leave, but someone special waits for us back on shore,” Captain says, leading our kayaks out of the mysterious forest.

Back at the dock, Maya Totman, director of The Florida Keys Wildlife Rescue Organization, stands alongside Florida Bay, holding a large pelican in her arms.

“Are you ready to fly?” she asks the bird. “She came to us nearly dead,” Maya explains. “But we treated her with antibiotics, hydration and love. It’s time for her to go home. She’s one of hundreds of birds we have luckily saved.”

Maya and the pelican stare into each other’s eyes. I can see the bond of affection between human and bird. Maya gives the fuzzyheaded beast one last hug and gently tosses her into the water. Massive wings unfold, and the wind carries the pelican out to sea.

“I love you,” Maya calls out. “Now go home. To the sky. Please. Never come back.”

We wingless mortals left on shore wipe away tears.

Another wildlife lover has saved yet one more feathered angel. Bird by bird.


Florida Keys Wild Bird Center


Captain Bill Keogh’s Big Pine Kayak Adventures


The Florida Keys


Visit and volunteer at these other wildlife rescue organizations:

Marine Mammal Conservancy


Dolphin Research Center


The Turtle Hospital