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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
- Florida Keys Wild Bird Center
- 93600 Overseas Hwy MM 93.6
- Tavernier, FL 33070.
- (305) 852-4486
Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation::
- Mile marker guide with dozens of stops to help make the most of your drive south.
- Florida Keys wildlife: Places to see animals
- Tiki bars: Soak up the Keys atmosphere
- 12 great kayak outings in the Keys
Exploring the upper Keys
- Original African Queen boat in Key Largo
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
- Islamorada emerging as hub with new museum, breweries
- Indian Key: Kayak into history
- Feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina
Camping and lodging
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.