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Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary's woes lead to confusion

For more than 40 years, the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores was the place to take an injured bird.

But the sanctuary — a victim of crushing money woes — stopped taking in new birds a few weeks ago.

Now finding a place for an injured bird is more hit or miss.

"There are places to take injured birds," said Barbara Walker, vice president of the Clearwater Audubon Society. "The problem is we have to go bird by bird. Which bird do we take where?"

The evaluation, she said, depends on the extent of the injury or the type of bird.

"It's hard," Walker said. And it takes a lot of phone time because no one organization will take everything.

But help may be on the way.

The sanctuary is trying to recover from its monetary difficulties, said Micki Eslick, operations manager. The organization, founded in 1971, says it treats about 10,000 wild birds annually. It has recently fallen on hard financial times with the filing of federal tax liens and foreclosures, among other things.

Others say they want to offer an alternative. But it will likely be a while before any large-scale program is established.

One group, headed by Robin Vergara, a former sanctuary employee, is talking with some cities about creating a new rehabilitation center on park land. The group Suncoast Bird Rescue hopes to have its paperwork in order by this week so that it can accept donations.

"Be patient. We're on it. We're tying to do this the correct way," Vergara said.

Vergara said he and others have already helped rescue 30 birds since the sanctuary stopped accepting new birds.

"We jumped in to fill a void," he said.

Largo parks superintendent Greg Brown said he has spoken with Vergara about putting a rehab center and sanctuary at McGough Park, 11901 146th St., where the city already has a nature center with birds of prey. Any agreement is far down the road, he said, and would require the City Commission's approval but the idea is that Largo would provide the land and that Suncoast Bird Rescue would provide everything else.

Also on the horizon is a proposal by SPCA Tampa Bay to hold a summit by June 30 to discuss how best to handle birds and other injured wildlife. The summit, which would be open to all, would be one of three. The other two would focus on farm and exotic animals.

The summits are needed because no one organization in Pinellas has the resources, equipment and expertise necessary to care for animals in those categories, said Martha Boden, SPCA chief executive. Yet animals in those categories are coming into shelters needing help.

The goal is to understand the requirements of animals in those categories and find out which group is best suited to providing those, she said.

Assistant county administrator Maureen Freaney, interim head of Pinellas County Animal Services, said it is critical that animal welfare groups know who can handle those animals and their problems. Right now, she said, the county has a patchwork of welfare groups and it's hard to find out who can help when it's needed.

"It gets confusing to all of us let alone someone who's the customer, or got a complaint or an issue," Freaney said. "We've got to kind of break this down and have it clarified."

Walker said she welcomes the SPCA initiative. The situation, she said, is especially confusing for the everyday consumer.

"People often don't know who to call," Walker said. "They call the SPCA. They call the sheriff. They call the Humane Society. (I've gotten calls saying) 'you are the 15th person I've called.' "

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary's woes lead to confusion 03/02/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 7:43pm]

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