At Bird Rehab, Wings and a Prayer

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Tavernier is for the birds. If they're sick, injured or orphaned, the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, located on the bay, will take them in.

That's great for the birds, some of whom are victims of fishing accidents and road traffic, and for visitors, who get to see the creatures up close and learn about the environmental factors affecting them.

There's a small visitors center with pamphlets and displays, but the real attraction is the 5 1/2 -acre home to an ever-changing population of hawks, spoonbills, pelicans, egrets, herons, merlins, pigeons and others needing help. The stay for most is temporary; the nonprofit center's mission, after treating them, is to have the birds return to the wild.

A narrow boardwalk leading from the visitors center traces a winding route that ends on the water and is lined with large enclosures housing the birds. Small plaques on everything from the entrance gate to the railing tops bear the names of patrons (the center runs solely on donations and grants), and all around are the broken-winged, tackle-pricked, migration-weary birds benefiting from their contributions.

The center is open from 8 a.m. until dark; if possible, try to be there around 3:30 p.m. When the folks bearing fish are even a few minutes late for the afternoon feeding on the center's small beach, the wild pelicans of Tavernier let them hear about it. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

-- Anne McDonough

The Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center is in Tavernier on U.S. 1 at Mile Marker 93.6 (bayside). There's no admission fee; the center recommends a $5 donation per car. Info: 305-852-4486,

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