Many of us love Key West because it is just off to the side of normal and a perfect distance outside the box. But during this unusual and unpredictable summer, we were pleased to have been able to provide some normalcy through our consistent and uninterrupted wildlife rescue services. It was a busy summer during which we achieved the unfortunate record of 40 rescues in a single day.

We are excited to provide another glimpse inside our clinic, our aviary, and our bustling days. Thank you for making the calls and providing your support so we can be there to help our wildlife in distress 24 hours a day.

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 1,200+ Birds this Year

Meet just a few of our recent patients!

Belted Kingfisher—Impact injury—Southard Street
Migrating White-eyed Vireo—Trapped inside Southernmost Gift Shop
Young migrating Broad-winged hawk—waterlogged and weary—Water rescue by Fury Watersports
Great Blue Heron— weak and emaciated—Virginia Street
Cattle Egret—Weak and Dehydrated NASKW—Truman Annex


Read on - answers below!

What bird can only eat when its head is upside down? 
What is the fastest bird?

It’s Not Easy Being Tri-Colored On A Green

by Toby Amour

Brown PelicanThe phone call to the Key West Wildlife Center came in on a busy day in mid-March. The caller, a golfer, declared that a ‘big bird with long legs’ had just been hit and injured on the golf course.

Calls to rescue birds from Key West Golf Course are not unusual, but how can a bird be hit by a slow-moving golf cart? Samantha, Program Director and Rescuer, arrives at Key West Golf Course within fifteen minutes from The Wildlife Center’s headquarters. Bud Martin, a member of the maintenance team, is waiting to quickly drive her to the twelfth hole, site of the accident.

The unlucky Tri-Colored Heron can be seen at the edge of a pond. No, he hasn’t been run over by a golf cart. He has been hit by a flying golf ball! Wing drooping, he runs from his rescuers, going perilously near the water where the rescue would have become much more complicated. Bud manages to head him away from the pond and Samantha skillfully rescues him with her net, safely secures him in a travel enclosure, and the heron is on his way to Key West Wildlife Center’s clinic.

At the clinic, Peggy, Animal Care Director and Wildlife Biologist, bandages and wraps his broken wing against his body. Surprisingly, he does not protest. Herons are typically nervous and sensitive in captivity, and it can be difficult to coax them to eat and remain calm so healing can take place. This heron is, in fact, a model patient for all the time he is in rehab adjusting quite easily to his routine at the Center’s clinic and aviary.
In late September, completely recovered, this special and, now lucky, Tri-Colored Heron was released back to the wild, as you can see in the image on the masthead.
Will he go back to the golf course? Will he learn to dodge those fast-moving golf balls? We hope so! Either way Key West Wildlife Center will be ready.

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

An Elegant Solution

by Jennifer Lopes

The Key West International Airport improvement project completed back in 2009 included two floor to ceiling glass walkways. It didn’t take long to realize that the new walkways were a fatal design for birds with many dying or being seriously injured after collision with the glass. 

Bird decalsIt took time, but the County worked with Florida Keys Audubon Society and Key West Wildlife Center to find a solution. The elegant correction was a window tinting called SOLYX Bird Safety Film with its horizontal pattern giving birds a visual reference. The film was fully installed by the end of 2016 and has worked perfectly. There has not been a single impact injury call from the airport since the film was installed.

The concerns with glass and birds are not unique to buildings like the airport. According to a study in 2014 by Smithsonian, 600,000 million or more birds are killed every year in the United States due to collision with glass windows and doors.

During Spring and Fall migration we prepare for both an influx of weak and weary migratory birds and for the many calls reporting impact injuries. Migratory warblers and local birds like doves and pigeons are especially vulnerable to glass strikes. Cloudy days are most devastating likely due to flatter natural light and increased difficulty distinguishing between the reflection on glass of clouds, plants or sky and actual open space.

With impact injuries, our preferred approach is to leave the bird at the impact location if not at risk and can be monitored for an hour or so by the caller. With minor impact injury, the bird will often fly off within the hour. A Win!

GnatcatcherFor more serious impact injuries, like the migratory Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (left) called in by the staff at Esky Rods, a visit to the clinic is needed. When the Gnatcatcher arrived at the clinic, the first step was to place it in a sensory isolation environment that was dark, cool, and as quiet as possible for 1 to 2 hours. This allowed the bird’s vitals to slow down and, hopefully, to start recovering. The next step was anti-inflammatories to help with any impact related swelling. The Gnatcatcher was closely observed its first day in the clinic and made it through the first night: a big victory for impact injured birds. On the second day, it was time for food and water and to make sure the bird’s habits were stabilized. Luckily, eating and behavior had returned to normal, signaling that recovery was complete and it was time for release.

Like the Gnatcatcher, impact injured birds will normally stay with us 24 to 48 hours. If they can recover, it will happen quickly. As most of the window strike victims are migratory, it is best to let them continue as soon as they are able.

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.   

Bird decalsAs with the airport, the overall idea is to apply visible patterns to the glass at your home or office preferably on the outside. These patterns on your windows and doors are only needed during migration time, usually September to mid-November and March to mid-May and can be removed or washed off during other times in the year. The goal of the pattern is to have minimal open space between the markings or decals. There are several easy ways and products to help you protect birds from impact injury including simply drawing a pattern or creative scene with soap or water-based paint to purchasing specially designed products like tapes, decals, netting or screens. 

With a bit of effort, we could make a big difference in the number of birds lost to impact injuries. Thank you for considering these easy and elegant solutions to help protect our native birds.


by Ellen Westbrook

Mid-October is the peak of the annual raptor migration through the Keys. The Atlantic Flyway narrows over the Keys, increasing the concentration of migrating birds along the chain of islands, making the Keys a hot spot to observe the migration of up to 20,000 birds of prey. 
Hawks in skySince 1999, there has been a fall raptor migration count at Curry Hammock State Park. For the past two years, for eight weeks in September and October, Luis Gles and Mariah Hryniewich have stared at the sky through binoculars and spotting scopes every day, identifying and tabulating roughly sixteen species of raptors migrating south for the winter, including Peregrine falcons, Northern harriers, Cooper's hawks, Broad-winged hawks, Short-tailed hawks, Merlins, Turkey vultures, American kestrels, Swallow-tailed kites, Ospreys and Bald eagles. Visitors are welcome to assist with the count and hone their bird-watching skills.
So I show up and try to ID hawks. What first appears to the naked eye to be a tiny spot moving north morphs into some kind of bird. The counters instruct me to pay careful attention to the length and shape of the wings, the manner of flight, and size and position of the head to make an educated guess of the species before it fades into the distance. Luis and Mariah patiently point out distinguishing characteristics of each bird in flight to help me. They get excited when I "get" it and when one of the rarer raptors flies over; they are truly engaged and joyful in the work. 
And then here comes the next one, and the next... Soon my arms are aching with the weight of the binoculars and my neck gets stiff from looking up. Maybe if I lie down over here where I won't be in the way and look straight up...
Oh, but there are other birds migrating besides raptors. Mariah and Luis have set up a fresh-water fountain and hummingbird feeders in the shade of a buttonwood. Several species of warblers take advantage of this.  And then there are the local shorebirds….it is bird-crazy here. Occasionally, some of the campers stop by to chat and join us for a while.
Unlike every restaurant in town, no reservation is needed. Just come by and join the fun!
Northern harrier

Shhh….Magnificent Frigatebirds at Rest

by Sarah Goodwin

Baby TankEvery evening as the sun sets along the coast, kayakers and boaters float up to one of the Keys’ several “bird islands,” spots where birds of different species land at night by the hundreds to roost. These Red mangrove islands are almost always surrounded on all sides by water, a moat against land predators. Here, even birds who viciously defend territory against other birds during the day, such as Reddish egrets and Great White herons, seek safety in numbers at night. Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, White ibis, Boat-Tailed grackles and other species arrive alone or in flocks. Many will return to the same branches night after night.

These communal roosts do not tolerate disturbances well; one jet ski zooming too close can send half a bird island hurtling into the sky, possibly never to return. Despite the fragility of “bird islands,” they’re a draw to birders and boaters. One particular bird often catches attention on these eco-tours.

Magnificent frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) are the largest of five species of frigatebird. They’re huge, and they look prehistoric because they’ve changed little in millions of years. Most people only ever see frigatebirds in flight, and only near tropical waters.

Perched, frigatebirds sit on stubby legs, peering with beady eyes over hook-tipped bills. Though frigatebirds spend the majority of their time over water, their feathers aren’t waterproof, and though their feet have webbing, they don’t swim (because no waterproof feathers.)

If he’s ready to mate, the male frigatebird inflates a giant red sac in his chest to balloon-size, hoping to attract a white-chested female. Once inflated, the pouches tend to stay inflated for hours, whether the female responds or not. He will screech, dance, bob his head and click his beak on top of his puffy red balloon to get her attention. If she’s interested, they’ll intertwine their necks.

Adult TankDespite this garish display, they aren’t terribly efficient breeders. After building a flimsy stick nest near water, the couple incubates a single egg for 2 months. The male helps raise the chick for the first 6 months, but the female spends a whole year feeding her youngster. Understandably, few females breed two years in a row.

These birds make better pirates than hunters, snatching small fish, squid and jellyfish that other predators have chased to the ocean’s surface. Frigatebirds often steal the catches of other birds, harassing them to get them to spit up anything they might have swallowed. Frigatebirds pester fishermen, steal bait, and run into trouble with hooks and line.

There is only one thing frigatebirds do impressively: They fly. Boasting the largest wing area to body weight ratio of any bird, frigatebirds spend most of their lives flying. They soar over the ocean, rarely flapping their boomerang-shaped wings that can span over 7 feet. They precision-adjust their course by opening and closing long, black, forked tails like scissors.

Most formal studies involving frigatebirds focus on the Great frigatebird (Fregata minor,) in particular a colony from the Galapagos Islands that have proved easy to catch. In 2016, researchers from the French National Centre for Scientific Research claimed these frigatebirds can fly for months straight, they can fly at an altitude of 12,0000 feet, soar 40 miles without a wing-flap, and they purposefully fly into cumulus clouds to take advantage of warm air updrafts and conserve energy.

Adult TankGerman researchers from the Max Plack Institute for Orinthology found that these Great frigatebirds “nap” on the wing when necessary in short 10-second breaks, sometimes shutting down one hemisphere of their brain, sometimes both. When the birds finally get a chance to roost, they make up for lack of sleep by resting longer.

Our local frigatebirds may not fly months at a time, but they get serious mileage. In 2012-2013, the Avian Research and Conservation Institute tracked 7 Magnificent frigatebirds caught in the Key West Wildlife Refuge and Dry Tortugas. These particular birds traveled as far West as the Yucatan, South to Nicaragua, and North to Cedar Key.

Despite flying long distances, Magnificent frigatebirds aren’t considered migratory. Since they’re such effortless fliers, the entire coastline from Tampa to Brazil, and along the Pacific Coast from Southern California to Ecuador, is considered their range. A small population breeds in the Dry Tortugas, but many more come to the Keys to feed and roost.

After so much flying, frigatebirds need a safe place to rest. So If you approach a bird island in a kayak or boat, please go slowly and quietly, and please, keep a respectful distance. Frigatebirds need their sleep!

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

Three Cheers for Volunteers!


Miranda VanDierdendonck

Shelley Green In 2013, Miranda and her husband shifted their busy lives from Santa Cruz to Key West. The big move was fueled by a desire for a healthier pace of life and for days full of new, beautiful adventures.

Arriving in Key West, the slate was totally clean but it didn’t take long to settle into an enjoyable new routine of work and exploring the area.

Miranda began volunteering at Key West Wildlife Center in 2015. Her friend Shelley Green insisted that she had way too much free time and there was a great non-profit that needed her help. Phew… are we glad that Shelley pushed Miranda our way.  
Due to a bit of discomfort with birds, Miranda’s volunteering role began with enthusiastically greeting visitors on the porch, educating them about our work and the beauty of the Indigenous Park. Over the years, Miranda became more involved with all aspects of our hard work and has left her discomfort with birds in the rearview mirror, as you can see by the picture of Miranda holding a Roseate Spoonbill! Thankfully, Miranda volunteers 3 to 4 days most weeks and focuses her energy on caring for and feeding the birds recovering in our aviary.  Her volunteer magic makes such a difference because it allows staff to focus on other important aspects of our work.

If you are visiting our aviary and are lucky enough to see Miranda tossing fish to Buster, our Brown Pelican education bird (which is missing much of his upper beak and must be hand fed), quietly thank Miranda for her hard work and admire Buster’s catching skills. Then again, Miranda would never have named him Buster, after the Giant’s great catcher Buster Posey, if he wasn’t so good at snatching those tasty fish.

Miranda, thank you for sacrificing your free time for us and the birds! We truly appreciate it!

Interested in helping as a Greeter? Email


Q: What bird can only eat when its head is upside down? 
A: Flamingo
Q: What is the fastest bird?
A: Peregrine falcon
Flamingos eat with their heads upside down to enable them to use their tongues as sieves to catch food and filter dirt and other inedible objects out of their food.
When diving for food, Peregrine falcons can reach a max airspeed of 242 mph. The common Swift is the fastest bird at level flight reaching 105 mph max airspeed.


Support KWWC at these upcoming events
See you there!

Nov 17 (4-7 PM)
Hank’s Hair of the Dog Saloon
Sip, Support and Enjoy

Nov 29 (7-9 PM)
Green Parrot Bingo
Drink, Support and Play Bingo
...but absolutely No Snivelling  

Visit us!

Select Sundays
10 AM - 2 PM




KWWC logoIt has been a busy and expensive year so far and we are pleased to be there helping our wildlife and community. Our number of rescues are up and we have also seen a rise in patients like raptors which require more expensive food during their recovery. Thank you for considering a year end donation to help us. We are also ready to receive donations in the form of securities and are happy to discuss this with you.  

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

Jennifer Lopes
Jackie Hewett
Kathleen Bratton
Debra Babich
Jane Gardner
Diane McNeil
Frances Porter
Steve Porter
Ellen Westbrook
Copyright © 2021 Key West Wildlife Center, Inc, All rights reserved.

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