February 2, 2018
When the fledgling Cedar Key Audubon Society won the Florida chapter of the year this past October, the primary reason given for the award was the success of the bird rescue program, conceived and initiated a year earlier by Tiffany Black of FWC and Savanna Barry of Florida Sea Grant. The program includes posted signs instructing people what to do if they hook a pelican and whom to call if more help is required, as well as a bevy of trained rescuers armed with nets, gloves, and the strong desire to aid wildlife in distress. When a bird is secured and it is determined that rehab will be needed, rescuers transport the injured bird to local rehab centers - most often to the Nature World Wildlife Rescue in Homosassa.
This past Sunday, volunteers from Cedar Key, in an effort initiated and organized by the Cedar Key Audubon, travelled to this facility to build a new holding shed. This marks the third visit by the group; the building is close to completion and the designers think one more full day of work might just result in a new and usable resource for the Rescue.
The Nature World Wildlife Rescue was first launched in 1985, an offshoot of the Wildlife park in Homosassa. Current director Mary Opall came aboard in 1996. “All I wanted to do was squirrels,” Mary said. Do you know how many animals we had in my first year? Four possums.” Last year 940 animals came through the facility - mostly birds - including 7-10 eagles per year. In 1997, Mary moved her own living quarters to a farm outside town and donated her house on Finale Street in Homosassa as the prime headquarters for the organization. Their first animal holding shed was constructed from wood saved from the former police headquarters, damaged by a tornado. That structure still stands and serves as the flight shed, where Mary tests whether a rehabbed bird can fly before being re-released into the wild. There are now five more sheds; the nearly finished sixth - to be called “The Cedar Key House”- will house injured hawks, owls, and various songbirds. This new building has been designed and conceived by Cedar Key volunteers Joe Hand and Tom Deverin and has slowly risen due to the labors of other volunteers, including Cedar Key residents Tom Simpson, Pat Deverin, Karrie Konga, Crosby Hunt, Deborah Anderson, as well as a number of Homosassa high school students, earning credits for a community service class.
This important local resource depends on main benefactor Duke Energy as well as local fish markets, who donate fish, Seven Rivers Hospital, which donates medical equipment, and a local food bank, which brings over food which is no longer suitable for human consumption, but which might help keep an injured fowl alive. As Mary says in her phone message, “We’re all volunteers here;” she relies on her “twenty good volunteers” to run the day-to-day operation, and folks like the dedicated Cedar Keys people who have given up three Sundays so far to aid in the cause of saving injured wildlife.