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As Birds Head South, They Often Run Into Trouble And Find Help In South Florida

Marva Hinton

This time of year, many birds from the north began migrating south for the winter. Some will stay here in South Florida while others will pass through the region on their way to the Caribbean. Increasingly, these birds are running into man-made obstacles that leave them with injured eyes, wings and beaks.
When this happens, the South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale often comes to the rescue.    

The nonprofit  is an affiliate of the Humane Society of the United States. About 3,300 migratory birds are treated at the center each year.

As these birds fly through South Florida, they have to navigate a changing landscape.

Credit Marva Hinton
This red shoulder hawk is being weighed before his leg injury can be treated by one of the three veterinarians on staff at the South Florida Wildlife Center.

“If new buildings come up, or forests are taken down, or a dam is put up and waterways change, that can confuse the birds, which causes them sometimes to have to deviate from their normal route taking them over long stretches of water where they cannot land and feed," said Sherry Schlueter, the center's executive director.

In addition to new high rises and recently-cleared land, Schlueter says, these birds are also running into people who would do them harm.

“We have seen an increase in injuries, trauma-related injuries, poisonings, lead-shot birds, crashes into glass windows, so it’s amazing to me that as many of them make it to the destination, are able to have their young, regain their strength and fly back home to the north in the spring," said Schlueter.

Three ambulances are used to transfer injured birds found in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties to the center.

When the birds arrive, they’re cared for by three licensed veterinarians and three licensed wildlife rehabilitators.

After being treated and rehabilitated, the birds are released back into the wild, most often in the area where they were found.

The facility relies on donations to operate and does not receive any government assistance.

Schlueter advises anyone who encounters an injured or orphaned bird to call the center at 954-524-4302 or 866-SOS-WILD.