ST. PETERSBURG — The helpless bird was perched on a barnacle-covered piling near the Vinoy Marina, motionless and exhausted as it stood against a chilly breeze.
Rebecca Suriano first spotted the bird, which appeared to be an anhinga, Wednesday as she set out for an early evening walk along Bay Shore Drive NE. When she approached it, she knew something was wrong. She leaned over a sea wall to get a closer look and found the source of its plight.
A small, spongy piece of blue fabric was wrapped around the beak, muzzling it shut.
"It was just so sad," Suriano, 28, recalled. She wondered what could be done as she stood as helplessly as the bird.
Then, Suriano became a witness to something remarkable — a small show of compassion for a distressed animal, which could easily have gone ignored.
About half a dozen people gathered with Suriano at the water's edge. There was talk of calling wildlife officials.
"There were people running up trying to find nets," said Dave Dusseault, who had been on a bike ride through downtown when he saw the gathering. "Lots of people wanted to help."
They all watched and wondered for a moment before Dusseault, 51, ventured over the sea wall and onto the piling. Without another word, another man took off his shoes, hopped the wall and waded into the water.
The two approached slowly, assessing the bird's movements as they moved closer. In a swift and smooth grasp, the other man reached out and took hold of the bird before both moved it to the shoreline.
The tired animal remained limp and motionless while they held it down. A third man went to work on the piece of fabric with a pocketknife. It took five to 10 minutes of careful cutting before it came loose.
The men let go, and the bird spread its wings over the water and drifted away.
Suriano captured the impromptu wildlife rescue in a series of cellphone pictures. Afterward, the three rescuers posed with smiles and thumbs up.
None of them knew each other. Before they dispersed, Suriano only got Dusseault's name. The effort touched the new St. Petersburg resident, who just recently moved here from New Jersey.
"People are just so kind-hearted," she said. "It just kind of melted me. It was a show of humanity at its best."