Enjoy this video from the April 2022 release of six brown pelicans patients.


It is summer and the heat is on! At the Center, spring and summer are the times of jubilant yet chaotic baby bird season and migration. Our days and nights are filled with rescues and care, and they are filled with the joy of helping very young orphaned birds reach their age of independence and assisting unfortunate migrators regain their ability to head North.

We truly appreciate the community’s vital role in ensuring that we are there to help our wildlife in distress. Thank you for making the rescue calls, bringing us wildlife in need, and providing your generous support.  

Enjoy our Summer 2022 newsletter and a further glimpse into our mission of rescue, rehabilitation, and release.

We couldn’t do it without you!!

Key West Wildlife Center Board and Staff


Ensuring the future of our native wildlife by providing timely rescues and quality rehabilitation with hope of release back to the wild.

We Have Rescued 800+ Birds this Year!

Meet just a few of our recent patients.

White Ibis: Vehicle Strike
US1 near Burger King
Magnificent Frigatebird: Impact Trauma
1000 Block of 16th Terrace
Cattle Egret: entanglement - snaring feet and fracturing leg - Thomas Street
Least Tern, fledgling: Returned to rooftop nesting colony - Key Plaza
Double-crested Cormorant: Swallowed hook and trailing fish line - Sunset Key 
Little Blue Heron: Weak & Emaciated - 3100 block of Riviera Drive

Wildlife Blooper Rescue

This winter, Captain Sheri Sullenger helped us rescue a Broad-winged Hawk with a talon stuck inside a Florida box turtle shell! Both hawk and turtle fully recovered with time from their "encounter" and were released. We are certain they don’t miss each other at all!

Thank you, Captain Sheri!


Read on - answers below!

Do you know what bird can fly backwards?
Turtles use vocalization to communicate. True or False?

Superheroes of the Night

by Sarah Goodwin

The velvety free-tail bat, a nocturnal animal, is still asleep late in the afternoon when I pick it up for feeding, gently plucking it from the towel. It clings with ten tiny toes. I’m wearing a single leather glove for safety, though I know bats are unlikely to bite unless provoked. The velvety free-tail bat is considered medium sized as a species, though this one isn’t quite big enough to fill my open palm. I can’t resist reaching out with one bare finger to touch the brown fur on its back. It feels soft as a kitten.
Bird decalsThen, the bat starts to vibrate, a low buzzing against my glove. It’s waking up. More accurately, it’s ending a state of torpor by shaking blood into all its tiny organs and muscles, raising its temperature. This is a vulnerable moment for the little creature, so I keep still and quiet. When it wakes, I’m to feed the bat with tweezers, as many mealworms as it can swallow.

Bats aren’t common patients at the Key West Wildlife Center, but we get them once in a while, usuallywith wing injuries, occasionally from cat attacks. Here and there someone calls because bats are roosting in their building, usually in an attic or under a roof (we don’t have caves here, after all.) But the Key West Wildlife Center absolutely do not remove “nuisance” bats or interfere with healthy ones in the wild. That’s a job for a licensed wildlife removal company. This particular bat has a tear in the membrane of one wing. It’ll heal, but in the meantime, it can’t fly.

The velvety free-tail bat (Molossus Molossus,) also called Pallas mastiff or Cuban house bat, resides in the Florida Keys, Caribbean, and South-to-Central America. Interestingly, Pallas Mastiff bats didn’t appear in the Florida Keys until the mid-1990’s, but now we have a well-established population. Likely they simply extended their native range from Cuba and the Caribbean. A few other bat species, on rare occasions, show up in the Lower Keys, namely, the Wagner’s mastiff or Bonneted bat, Jamaican fruit bat, and Brazilian free-tailed bat.

As I feed the injured bat, Wildlife Center board member and long-time volunteer Debra Babich watches over my shoulder, chuckling. “I love how they suck worms down like spaghetti!” Indeed, bats can eat their body weight in insects nightly. Mosquitos and other night-flying pests make up a huge part of their diet.

Like many of us, I grew up thinking of bats as “rats with wings.” When I was five, one got into our enclosed porch. My mother screamed and yanked me into the house while my father went after the bat with a broom. “They get tangled up in your hair!” my mother told me. I now know that’s highly unlikely, given a bat’s extraordinary eyesight and its superpowers of echolocation. Bat wings are nimble, closer in structure to human arms and hands than to birds’ wings. Bats can locate and snatch a mosquito out of the air in the dark; they’re not likely to run into your head except under extreme circumstances.

Bats aren’t even rodents. In fact, they’re more closely related to primates than to rats and mice. They’re also the only mammal that flies (not just glides.) Nor is it true that bats will suck your blood or give you rabies, which is practically non-existent in the Florida Keys anyway. Actually, when you see them up close, bats are darned cute, their smooshed little faces like a pug dog with elf ears.

This all sounds rather dire and disturbing so let’s turn back to easy and elegant solutions that prevent birds from suffering window impact injuries.   

Luckily, people’s perceptions of bats are slowly changing for the better. People even invite bats onto their property by providing nice bat houses. Turns out bats are better insect control than mosquito zappers. As for this particular bat, hopefully it’ll be released in the near future. I’m happy to know I helped send this cute, furry, flying, mosquito-eating superhero back out into the night.


by Jennifer Lopes

Our daily lives are full of gadgets and inventions to help us accomplish tasks well and with ease. So, it should come as no surprise that our experienced and skilled wildlife rescuers have a few special and unique tools tucked up their sleeves.

Let me introduce two such tools: the Chick Vac and the Chick-a-Boom! The names alone make me smile and they work oh so well!

The Chick Vac

Chick o vacThe Chick Vac was conceived of and created by our Executive Director, Tom Sweets, and others on the rescue team for a “only in Key West” rescue situation.

It’s mid-morning and the rescue line rings. On the other end of the call is a worried and distraught tourist. She and her children can hear what sounds like young birds chirping down in a storm drain and they do not know how to help. Within minutes, Tom is out the door with the Chick Vac, a fully charged battery for the Vac, and a small pet carrier to safely transport the rescued patients back to the clinic.

Tom arrives at the Duval storm drain and the tourist has waited in hopes of seeing a successful rescue. When she first sees the adapted small shop vac, there is a glimmer of concern that crosses her face, but Tom explains that the Vac uses just enough suction to gently secure the Key West chick to the end of the extension pipe. He also points out that the diameter of the PVC pipe extension is small enough that a chick cannot be sucked in, and they have added a rounded collar at the end of the pipe so the chicks are secured with gentle suction against a finished, rounded edge.

Then, Tom goes to work patiently securing one chick at a time and placing them into the prepared pet carrier until all are safe. The family is relieved and pleased that they helped to save these little chicks and that we had the perfect invention to get it done.

The Chick-a-Boom

Chick o boomTom and the team may have not invented the Chick-a-Boom, but they made and adapted it for a particularly important type of rescue: young Least Tern chicks.

Endangered Least Tern adults start arriving in Key West from South America in the spring for their annual breeding and nesting season. Years ago, Least Tern colonies were found on our beaches, but development and encroachment have forced them to adapt to using flat roofs for their nesting colonies.

This change to their nesting habits brings two big risks for the young Least Terns - the potential for a fall from the roof and their inability to return to the safety of the roof top colony if they do fall.

When we are alerted that a young Least Tern is on the ground, we take precise location information (as we do with all rescues) from the caller or the person delivering the young bird to our clinic. The young Tern will be checked out by our Animal Care team to make sure there is no injury. Once the Least Tern chick is cleared, it is critical that the young Tern be returned to their roof colony as quickly as possible. This return is made difficult by how sensitive Least Terns are to any disruption. If we simply went up to the roof with the chick, we would disrupt several nesting pairs of Least Terns and put at risk many young Least Terns .. the last thing we want to do.

Meet the perfect solution: the Chick-a-Boom!
Remaining at ground level, the rescuer extends the telescoping pole of the Chick-a-Boom until it is at the right height to gently place the young chick back on the roof. Then, the young chick is placed inside the large plastic cup that is secured at the end of the pole and the rescuer slowly lifts the Chick-a-Boom to the roof height. The cup is angled for the young Tern to easily slide out and onto the roof, so the rescuer must keep the Boom angled a bit back until the cup reaches roof height. The young Least Tern slides out and back onto their roof top colony, safely back and exactly where they should be!

Drop by and visit us at 1801 White Street to learn more about the rescue and rehabilitation work we do with wildlife in distress and enjoy the wonderful green space of The Indigenous Park. For hours, visit our website or call us at 305-292-1008.

Tweezer Moms

Thoughts that fly through my mind when feeding young birds
by Toby Amour

Baby TankSo tiny and hungry? 
Peggy says they grow their full skeletal frame in the first 18 days. We humans take 20 or more years.

So, they’re in a hurry and they’re all squawking at me. I’m sliding open the door – uhoh – he’s nearly out of the cage. Those little scrabbling feet, little scrabbling feathers – now, you stay in there or no food! Ok?

Pick up a worm with tweezers – Just wait!

They’re all crowding to front, except one – he’s hanging back. Must feed them all. How do I remember which one I fed the last worm to? – uhoh – he’s got two worms? Looks at me, beak open, two worms poking out. Ah, swallowed both! But this one, he dropped his worm! Are you going to pick it up? No way!  All right, try again, here’s another.

I’m getting to the bottom of this dish. Wait a minute! That last worm was pretty green and the water in the bottom of the dish – green. What am I feeding them!? Is it toxic? Need to ask Peggy.

Peggy says: No Worries. The green is just a bit of algae. It’s good for them. 

Peggy has secured a small cup to one of the cross ties in the cage where the two baby Grey Kingbirds are. This cup is full of live moving worms, not the still kind we’ve been feeding them with tweezers. The idea is that they’ll start eating worms out of the cup. Learning to get food for themselves, live food, as the grown-up birds do. So far, Grey Kingbird babies haven’t paid any attention to those live worms in the cup. And, no demanding squawks either. Just sweetly leaning together, eyes closed, beaks closed. 

Here I come. Tweezer Mom. Open their eyes, open their beaks. Each one takes a worm, gently. Swallows and waits quietly for the next. 

When, I wonder, when will they get the big idea? But, the cup goes unnoticed.
After all, why should they?  When so far, so good.

It happens on my next shift, several days later. I’m bending over the squawking, demanding little Mockingbird babies.

Peggy announces: They did it! The Grey Kingbird babies have started eating from the cup! 

Taken the live food for themselves. How did it happen? A sudden moment, a look, a flash of ancient memory, an absolutely brilliant new and miraculous awareness. 

We’ve grown up. No more Tweezer Moms. We’re on our way!

Our 24-hour Rescue Line is 305-292-1008

Three Cheers for Volunteers!


Courtney Piner

Shelley Green Courtney arrived in Key West just a mere year ago from Portland, Oregon. July in Key West…what a steamy time of year to arrive! It was indeed an adjustment but Courtney’s migration skills, honed through many relocations with her husband, a Boatswain’s Mate with the US Coast Guard, quickly had her on the move to find how best to help and join the Key West community.

Within a short time, Courtney was helping The Key West Garden Club with her lifetime of plant and landscaping skills. Another volunteer at The Garden Club mentioned Key West Wildlife Center and, lucky for us, she made her way across Atlantic Avenue and offered to help.

Courtney is putting her Master Gardener certification to work for us by developing plant identification labels for many of the important native plants in Indigenous Park. These labels will not only identify the plant but will also highlight any unique aspect of the plant and its importance to the ecosystem of the Park and beyond.

Caring for chickens is also in Courtney’s skillset, gained from helping a relative with chickens in her youth. When volunteering with us, Courtney can often be found in our chicken aviary expertly tending to them and the aviary.

Our new plant signs will be appearing in The Indigenous Park after hurricane season. Come visit us and enjoy Courtney’s hard work.

Thank you Courtney for volunteering and sharing your amazing skills!

Interested in volunteering? Email


Q: Do you know what bird can fly backwards? 
A: Hummingbird
Q: Turtles use vocalization to communicate. True or False?
A: True!
Hummingbirds can fly forward, backward, up, and down, and in figure-eight patterns. They can beat their wings up to 80 times per second and generate much more force on their upstroke than other birds. This Ruby-throated Hummingbird suffered an impact injury in the Dry Tortugas. Thanks to Yankee Freedom for rescue and transport.
Turtles make a variety of vocalizations to communicate with other turtles and other species. Vocalization is used most during mating and, in some cases, by baby turtles seeking attention. This Florida Box Turtle was found at risk in traffic and relocated to a safe area.

For your calendar!


We're looking forward to the return of this fun fundraiser this winter!

See you this fall!

Select Sundays
10 AM - 2 PM





It's For The Birds
February 26, 2023

Plans are underway for our annual benefit!


KWWC logoIt has been a busy year so far and our food and supply costs have increased considerably. We are pleased to be there to help our wildlife in distress and the community. Our work with native wildlife is funded entirely by donations. Thank you for considering a contribution to help us. We are also ready to receive donations in the form of securities and we have established the Key West Wildlife Center Endowment Fund with Community Foundation of the Florida Keys.

Key West Wildlife Center, Inc. (EIN: 27-1565877) is a 501(c)(3) Charitable Tax Exempt Organization. Your donations help us to fulfill our mission. Contributions are deductible under the Internal Revenue Code. Please give online or send donations to: Key West Wildlife Center, PO Box 2297, Key West, FL 33045. You may also contact us at 305-292-1008 or

Thank You!


Learn more about staff and board here!

Tom Sweets, Executive Director
Peggy Coontz, Animal Care Director
Samantha Plencner, Program Director

Sarah Goodwin, Rescuer and Rehabilitator
Britanny Davis, Rehabilator
Anne Cyr, Bookkeeper

Jennifer Lopes
Kathleen Bratton
Debra Babich
Jane Gardner

Greer Griffith
Diane McNeil
Frances Porter
Steve Porter
Ellen Westbrook

Jack Wetzler
Copyright © 2022 Key West Wildlife Center, Inc, All rights reserved.

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