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Florida Keys Wild Bird Center is worth a quick stop

Add this to your list of things to do in the Florida Keys — especially for kids.

Next time you head south on the Overseas Highway for an outing in the Keys, take a few minutes to stop at MM 93.6 in Tavernier for the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center.

Wander along a boardwalk through a mangrove forest and visit dozens of birds rescued in the Florida Keys at this volunteer-run facility with an informal, backyard sort of feel.

The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center is free, though after seeing the work being done, we wanted to stuff some dollars into the donation box on the way out. It’s open from sunrise to sunset 365 days a year, and you’re free to wander without anyone hassling or bothering you.

At the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier, five birds walk on boardwalk past other caged birds.
At the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier, you see as many birds outside the cages as inside them. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

It’s a great place to bring kids; a stop will only take 15 or 20 minutes, unless you decide to linger.

The shady mangrove forest is sectioned off via wire caging to create enclosures for injured birds. You’ll see lots of awkward Eastern Brown Pelicans hopping around with just a stub where one wing should be. There are Great Egrets and cormorants and several varieties of owls and hawks.

Wild birds such as pelicans are often brought to the center with injuries from fishhooks, as are baby birds, hawks, owls, songbirds, raptors, vultures and seabirds — all common patients.

florida keys wild bird center 2010 8 Keys trip 054 Florida Keys Wild Bird Center is worth a quick stop
A snowy egret hangs out with the injured birds at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Along the boardwalk are cages holding some of the grand birds that are too injured to be released– Leopold the Barred Owl, Samson and Delilah the Great Horned Owls, Casper the Barn Owl.

But the place is full of birds outside the cages, too, with pelicans, herons and egrets hanging around hoping to snatch a little food. A volunteer busy feeding the birds told us: “We have no problem with birds breaking out, our problem is preventing birds from breaking in.”

Pelican at Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, Marathon
Pelicans crowd the walkways at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, Marathon. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Every rail and surface is covered with small handcrafted signs marking dedications, memorials and contributions.

The paths leads down to the waterfront, where you can gaze on to a lovely view of Florida Bay and its active bird life.

Along the shore, a blind next to a wetland had a sign about how to report information on roseate spoonbills wearing tracking bands. And, as if he’d read the sign, a roseate spoonbill preened himself in the pond right there.

The story behind the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center

The center was started by a Laura Quinn, “the bird lady,” a mathematician who moved to the Keys with her husband because they were sailors. She began rescuing and rehabilitating birds in the 1980s with the help of a local vet and soon her home-grown rehab facility needed more room.  She found a 5.5-acre waterfront property on which only three-quarters of an acre could be developed, and this became both her home and the bird center. She died in 2010.

Today, that property is one of the last saltwater tidal ponds in the keys and is a great place to see native trees and animals.

The non-profit that operates the sanctuary now has a modern hospital, which is not open to the public.

Video of a worker at Florida Keys Wild Bird Center capturing a pelican with a head injury while feeding a flock of wild pelicans at the bird sanctuary.

 Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation::

Exploring the upper Keys

 Camping and lodging

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John Hicks

Sunday 5th of September 2021

We used to rent a house on key largo in the late eighties and early nineties, we enjoyed the place greatly, that is the bird rescue and rehab area. My dad brought in a couple of birds that needed help...too...

John...nice to hear about the bird area is still going today....

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