Barbara Kerr is a big-time animal lover. “I have always done charitable work through humane societies when I lived in Virginia, but when I moved to Plymouth Harbor I thought it was time to get away from dogs and cats and work with something I didn’t know anything about,” Barbara said. She spent nine years on the board of the Gloucester Mathews Humane Society, and now she spends her Tuesdays and Thursdays working to rehabilitate birds at Save Our Seabirds on Longboat Key.
Save our Seabirds Wild Bird Learning Center (SOS) is a non-profit wildlife conservation and education organization located on the former site of The Pelican Man’s Bird Sanctuary. Their mission is “to rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured birds, and to educate the public about nature and environmental sustainability,” according to www.saveourseabirds.org. Birds that have been rescued but are unable to be returned to the wild are given permanent homes in their Wild Bird Learning Center.
As an SOS volunteer, Barbara regularly checks in on a wide range of birds, from gulls and pelicans to crows and owls. “We don’t just take shore birds,” she said. “We take anything with feathers.” Over her two years of volunteering with SOS, Barbara estimates she has helped care for 50-60 birds.
Barbara’s volunteer station is in the baby bird hospital. She helps rescue, rehabilitate, and release young homeless and injured birds. When a young or injured bird is brought into the facility, it is first examined and treated by medical staff. Then the constant feeding begins. “To see how much they grow, even just from a Thursday to a Tuesday, is just amazing,” she said. When they are big enough, they graduate into the aviary until they can be released.
As a volunteer, Barbara also goes out on rescue missions and is the designated contact for Plymouth Harbor. “I like the hands-on stuff I get to do that gets you dirty,” she said. She once was called out to rescue a bird who was stuck in a water hazard on a golf course. When she arrived at the site, she found a Great Blue Heron who had exhausted himself trying to get out of the muck. Using a towel, she was able to calm the bird down, pull him out, and get him into the carrier case to bring him back to SOS. “Staff got some fluids in him and he was on his way,” she said. “I like when we are able to resolve the problem.” However, some birds are never able to be released. There are about 80 birds who live permanently in the Wild Bird Learning Center aviary, and visitors can walk through and learn about our native birds.
When it is time to release a bird back into the wild, volunteers will bring it back to where it was found, but some birds stay close by even after their release. Fred the crow is one of the birds who has stuck around. “He brings berries and food to the younger crows in one of our outside cages,” Barbara said. “It’s so touching to know that they are looking out for each other.”
Working with these birds as they move through the stages of rehabilitation reminds Barbara of the value of our elders. “I was on the younger side when I moved into Plymouth Harbor, and I was pleasantly surprised at the inspiration I get from those that are older than me,” Barbara said. “They challenge me to age with zest, and I get that same feeling watching these little birds. The young ones look at the older cohort of birds that have come before them, and I am so encouraged by this cycle of life.”