By Anne H Oman
April 25, 2022
In the back of Terri Oliver’s gray, four-wheel-drive Beamer sits a boogie board, some netting, a large plastic bin and a kayak paddle
“I keep my kayak at a friend’s house near the beach,” she explained.
These are the tools Ms. Oliver uses to rescue injured birds: seagulls, pelicans, a gannet, a double-breasted cormorant, an arctic tern and others in distress. She used to take them to B.E.A.K.S – the Bird Emergency and Kare Sanctuary –on Big Talbot Island. But with B.E.A.K.S. closing, the nearest facility is in St. Augustine, a long and expensive drive away.
Ms. Oliver, a fit, can-do 63-year-old with bright blue eyes, curly blond hair and the tanned skin of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, would like to change that – by opening a bird rescue and rehabilitation facility on the property she is in the process of buying in Nassauville.
To a visitor, the place where Ms. Oliver lives with two rescued hounds and a white cockatiel named Snow who landed in the yard next door and whose owner she is trying to find, looks like a well-worn manufactured house with a few dilapidated outbuildings. But Ms. Oliver visualizes it differently, as a well-equipped bird rescue center she has already christened “Take Flight!”
“That could be a dorm for volunteers,” she says enthusiastically, pointing to a shack-like structure. “I’d like to get kids involved. It’s all about giving back. If you rescue something, you feel good about it.”
Another ramshackle building she envisions as a vet clinic
Is there a need for such a facility in Nassau County?
“Absolutely – I’ve had three bird calls already this morning,” said Jonathan Howard, who runs Ark Wildlife Care and Sanctuary in Hilliard, the county’s only licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Ark, however, does not accept birds.
Ms. Oliver is willing to step into the breach, but is she ready and able?
“I don’t think she understands how much it takes,” said Cindy Mosling, the director of B.EAK.S. “You can’t just say ‘I’m going to be a doctor – tomorrow.’”
Ms.Mosling confirmed that B.E.A.K.S. is, indeed, closed.
“We are no longer receiving birds, “she told the Observer. “Most of our birds have been released. It’s been forty years, honey. We’re tired. We may go back to it, but we’re taking a breather. I have a 21-year-old daughter who’s never taken a family vacation… My degree is in architecture. I took two years of classes and a two-day test, with questions like “How many calories in a meal worm?’”
Ms. Mosling also spoke about the 356,000 pounds of fish a year and the 25 pounds of chicken a week her husband, Andrew, hauled to the facility. “You need cold storage, and there are codes about how much space a bird needs,” she added.
Karen Ward-Lynch of The Ark Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in St. Augustine, the nearest bird rescue center, also spoke of the difficulties involved.
“I wish Terri well,” she said. “It’s very challenging work. … You need people skills. I’m in favor of people rehabilitating. She has to set up a non-profit so she can legally raise money. She has to set up a facility and get a state permit and a federal permit. She needs to learn.”
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), permits from both the state and the federal government are needed to operate a rehabilitation facility for migratory birds (defined as all birds except the starling English sparrow, quail, turkey and exotics). The state application is available online at the FWC’s website, www.myfwc.com. Unless your application shows that you have at least one year of documented experience in wildlife rehabilitation with a minimum of 1,000 hours, you will be required to take a written examination. FWC will provide a study guide. When you have either met the experience criteria or passed the exam with a score of 80 percent or better, FWC will send an investigator to inspect your facility. When all is in order state-wise, your application will be forwarded to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Ms. Oliver said she is aware of the challenges and has all the needed forms, which she will file as soon as she clears the first hurdle: zoning. The property is not currently zoned for this purpose.
“Ms. Oliver’s property is under internal review to see what options are available to support a bird sanctuary,” Joshua MacBeth of the Nassau County Planning Department said in an email.
Ray Hetchka, who, with his wife, Jody, operates Kayak Amelia on Little Talbot Island and has found injured pelicans and, once. a loon that had been shot on his property, said that a new bird rescue facility in the area “would be a godsend.”
Does Terri Oliver have the wherewithal to pull it off?
“I think she does,” said Mr. Hetcha. “A lot of pieces have to fall into place. But she has a really good heart. And motivation and commitment count for a lot.”
IF YOU COME ACROSS WILDLIFE YOU THINK MAY BE INJURED OR ORPHANED ….
You should contact a Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator in your area, says the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A list of rehabilitators, by county, can be found on the FWC website, www.myfwc.com. The only licensed facility in Nassau County is the Ark Wildlife Care and Sanctuary in Hilliard (904-424-6543), which does not accept birds. The nearest facility that takes birds (no eagles)is The Ark Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in St. Augustine (904-679-1533).
The FWC warns that “any injured, orphaned, or abandoned animals must be brought to a Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator for rehabilitation. Caring for sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife beyond the time necessary to transport the animal to a Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator is against the law.”