Rescue and Rehabilitation at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary

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Established in 1971 by zoologist Ralph Heath, the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is the largest hospital and rehabilitation reserve for wild birds in the United States, and is considered to be one of the world’s top avian rehabilitation centers. Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and run as a nonprofit organization, the sanctuary takes in and treats up to 10,000 birds each year, relying on the generosity and compassion of the public to continue providing this essential service.

Up to ninety percent of the birds brought to the sanctuary have been incapacitated in some way as a direct, or indirect, result of human activities. Of the birds that survive the critical first 24-hours following their rescue, up to eighty percent are successfully reintroduced to the wild. However, some are unable to return to the wild, and these remain at the sanctuary where visitors can view them and find out more about how and why they landed up at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary. There are a wide range of bird species that are permanent residents at the sanctuary and if they breed successfully, their offspring are released into the wild.

Birds brought to the sanctuary will immediately undergo a thorough examination, diagnosis and medical treatment, with a feeding chart and medical record kept for each bird. Birds are then placed in an indoor recovery room and closely observed until deemed fit enough to move to the outdoor rehabilitation aviary with others of their species. Thereafter, the rescued birds will either be released into the wild, or remain as permanent residents at the sanctuary or another suitable rehabilitation center or zoo.

In addition to viewing the birds housed at the sanctuary, visitors can find out what they can do to promote conservation, and what to do if they find an injured or baby bird. With man continually encroaching on the territory of wild birds, this type of information is invaluable, and with more than 100,000 visitors each year, the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary continues to make a significant contribution to educating the public on bird conservation.

2011 Spring Banding Session

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Taking place at Fort Mogan State Historical Park, along the Alabama Gulf Coast, banding will begin before dowan and end mid-afternoon. This area is an important stopover for migratory birds returning from South and Central America. Banding is free, with admission to the fort costing $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for children of 6 to 12, and free for children under 6.

Date: 2 to 14 April 2011
Venue: Fort Morgan State Historical Park
State: Alabama
Country: United States of America

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates)

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The American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates) is a coastal bird that can be found along the Gulf Coast and over most of the Atlantic Coast. This is a bird that is 16 inches in length and can be identified by is predominantly black body, grayish-brown back and wings, and a snowy white belly. This coastal bird has pink legs and a bright orange or blood red bill, with yellow eyes and an orange orbital ring. Juvenile birds have a dark tip at the end of their bills and their eyes are dark. Although its coloring does not make the best fashion statement, it does make them distinctive. Being a coastal bird, the American Oystercatcher relies on the ocean for its food that consists of mussels, oysters and clams, Unfortunately, coastal developments by humans are increasingly encroaching on the habitat and lifestyle of these birds.

American Oystercatchers are migratory birds, with the breeding populations located in the north often migrating to the southeastern areas of the United States during the winter months. Due to development and coastal activities, populations in the Massachusetts area have increased in numbers. In contrast to the northern populations, it seems that the birds that are found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, are more established and remain permanent residents of the area. Many IBA’s (Important Bird Areas) have been established to provide the American Oystercatchers with safe nesting grounds, and winter habitats for the migratory populations. There are approximately thirty breeding pairs that are protected by the Hatteras National Seashore IBA, in North Carolina, and the Altamaha River Delta IBA, in Georgia, is home to approximately 250 migratory American Oystercatchers. Many of these IBA’s, including the Big Bend Ecosystem IBA, Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge and Hillsborough Bay IBA in Florida, play an important role in the conservation of these beautiful birds. These areas are also motivated by the fact that in the 1850’s, American Oystercatchers had become extremely scarce in the mid-Atlantic areas, and only began increasing in population numbers during 20th century.

Not only does human development threaten these coastal birds, but they also fall victim to hurricanes and oil-spills. All these factors make nesting very difficult for the birds. American Oystercatchers nest on the ground, which enables them to blend in with their surroundings as a form of camouflage. Their eggs are gray in color and are speckled, having a pointed shape which prevents the eggs from rolling away. But no matter how many preventative measures the American Oystercatcher has, it remains up to humans to protect these birds, and the land they live on.

Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina)

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Known for their beautiful songs Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) are more often heard than seen. These delightful birds are a medium-sized thrush and are the only member of the genus Hylocichla. They are migratory, and while their breeding grounds are in eastern North America, they generally fly south at night in mid-August. They may stop on the Gulf Coast for a few days in inclement weather before attempting to fly across the Gulf of Mexico to the tropical forests of southern Mexico and Central America. Wood Thrushes have been found in Western Europe but this is a rare occurrence and these birds are usually vagrants.

The typical Wood Thrush is 18.5 cm long and weighs about 48 grams. Their crowns, napes and upper back are a rusty-brown colour while their underparts are white with random black or dark-brown spotting. The rest of their upperparts are brown and they have a white eye ring and streaked cheeks. The bill is short and pointed with pink colouration near the corners and black colouration on the tip. The legs are also pink. All in all it is quite an attractive bird and both sexes are similar in appearance. The juvenile bird has pale spots on its upperparts but is otherwise difficult to distinguish from the adult. Wood Thrushes are famous for their beautiful flute-like voices and they are capable of combining two notes at once. Their singing is usually stronger and more elaborate just before sunrise and at dusk though they may sing throughout the day during mating season. They usually stop singing by the end of July.

Wood Thrushes generally favour well-shaded areas near water. They feed on beetles, flies, millipedes, earthworms, spiders and sow bugs which they usually find by overturning fallen leaves on the moist soil. They also feed on small fruits and berries. In the springtime, males return to their breeding grounds early to establish their territories. Before long, their beautiful songs attract a mate and a nesting sight that is well concealed and has plenty of shade is chosen. The female will usually build the nest in a fork in a tree, using mud, dead grass and dead leaves to create the structure. Once the nest is built, she will lay 3-4 greenish-blue eggs in it which she will incubate herself. She may have two broods in one season. Once the Wood Thrush chicks are hatched, both parents help to feed the nestlings.