I will state upfront that yes, I have heard the rumors, and yes I have read up on the history of this particular bird sanctuary.
I’m not going to gloss nor go into detail over the gory details but rather send you off to google and you can read for yourself. There is a lot of controversy regarding the previous owner and what he did at and to the original Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary. His two sons did take over after a messy court case and have rebranded it as Seaside Seabird Sanctuary.
Why would they sue their own father and take on such a mammoth task of taking on the Sanctuary and trying to fix it to the point of successful operation? Because, according to them and the community at large, the sanctuary provides an important role within the community rescuing and rehabilitating (when possible) sea birds as well as other non domestic birds that would otherwise suffer.
I am, however, a strong believer in both second chances and seeing if a place truly does what they say they’re doing.
On the day of my visit I met with Melissa, the Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator and Office Manager, to discuss the murky history, what they have done since taking over, their future plans and to see everything that they do.
From the street the sanctuary looks tiny but upon entering you realize just how deceiving the entrance is. The facility has a total of 116+ permanent residents that eat a total of 200 pounds of fish a day, much of which is donated by fisherman in the area.
The staff and volunteers were busy checking on the birds and much laughter could be heard. To me this is one of the biggest indicators of just how far they’d come. There is a sense of excitement about the place, a sense of new beginnings and no challenge too big nor too small.
Under the previous management many of the structures were not kept up to the required standards. Since taking over Seaside has been slowly rebuilding their facilities, fixing the bird enclosures and ensuring that the safety and health of the birds is at the forefront of their mission.
The observation tower is currently being worked on and should be open once more to the public soon. From up top you can see nothing but beautiful beaches, the sanctuary from above and more beaches.
They have onsite rehab “fly zones” which are specially built structures long enough to allow the birds to test out their wings and practice flying again. Though many would like to watch this part of the rehab the staff feel that its a private moment for the birds to try get their flying “feels” back. I tend to agree, I wouldn’t want anyone to watch me doing physical therapy. Mind you thats a different story all together.
The enclosures for the birds of prey may seem a little small to some but the birds themselves can not fly and some can not walk too far so in order to prevent strain or further injury they are kept in smaller aviaries.
All the aviaries are different sizes according to what birds are kept inside. The vultures and pelicans have the biggest areas with enough space to hang out with their buddies… Or fight over who’s turn it is to get the fish in the pond like the two Pelicans below.
I really enjoyed walking through their tree-shaded pathways, meeting each of the birds and reading up on them, their name and sometimes even a little about their history.
Their hospital area is extremely clean and well equipped for large intake. I got to meet a few of the birds that had just come in, some with broken wings, legs and a poor soul that got hit by a car. Roufus up top is one of their ambassadors and is often seen sitting on a volunteers arm inspecting all the other birds and their cages, in his downtime he hangs out in the hospital and checks on everyone.
No matter the injury Melissa let me know that they will do what ever they can to help the bird rehabilitate back into the wild. The only time they will keep a bird at their sanctuary is if it is unable to be re-released due to its inability to survive. At present they only handle splinting and wound management but have a Veterinarian that handles all surgeries should there be a need.
Why so many birds?
The sad truth is that, although fishermen and seabirds may like each other, the birds more often than not get hurt in the “action”. Many a bird will either steal the freshly caught fish with hooks still in them or they get hooked while fishing themselves. Some however get hurt from misjudging the speed of cars and unnatural disasters such as oil spills as well as the natural kind like massive storms.
Why should you visit?
For me Seaside Seabird Sanctuary is a two-for-one deal. You can enter either by from the beach or from the road. Walking through the sanctuary with all the trees is a nice respite from the consistent Florida sun, stopping a while to talk to the birds (come now I’m not the only one) and then laughing a little as one of the free loading vultures stalks you because he thinks you have snacks is a fun addition to any beach day.
What you don’t want to miss
At 2.30pm every day you can go watch the feeding frenzy as the pelicans and other birds all gulp down the fish. I don’t know how they do it but these guys tell time, you can see them starting to get all excited and then when the staff bring out the fish they all start clamoring in excitement. If I hadn’t know what was about to happen I’d have thought they’d started a party without me! Its fun to watch and prepare to laugh a little at their antics.
Another exciting thing to participate in and/or watch is the Bird Releases. On select Wednesdays the sanctuary holds a Bird Release Ceremony during which one or more of the birds gets released back into the wild once it has been fully rehabilitated. This is a heartwarming experience and a good educational opportunity for the young ones. For more information check out their Facebook Page, Twitter or Website.
Not sold yet?
At present the sanctuary is free. There is no one chasing you down for a donation or money. Though they do ask that if you enjoy your stay or want to help out that you drop a little bit in the donation boxes dotted all around the sanctuary. This big guy says please do drop a few when you visit… as you can see he is the only one giving you the royal stare down.
For those that have an afternoon free and want to get a little sunshine then why not stop by and see some of Florida’s great sea birds up close.
Want to volunteer?
There are big plans in the making for volunteer programs and internships. Give them a call to find out more as they are always in need of any kind of volunteer time you are willing to donate their way be it gardening, helping out or even fixing a fence.
Don’t be surprised that when you leave the sanctuary you have an adoption certificate in the mail stating that you have adopted a gorgeous Pelican by the name of George.
Hey it will be a great story to tell “Yup I have a pet Pelican called George who lives over in Indian Shores”.
An awesome gift, much better than an ahem xbox game or lets say chocolate (we love chocolate)
Free, Sunshine, Happy Birds and beaches… I don’t think you could go wrong.
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Photos from the day
All photos are available for purchase, portion of the proceeds will go to Seaside Seabird Sanctuary.