Volunteer to Save Birds

11/24/09 Andrea Lypka
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INDIAN SHORES- The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is inundated daily with phone calls from citizens who spot injured birds in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

Every day about 20-45 injured birds are brought in to the avian rehabilitation hospital and sanctuary, said spokesperson Michelle Glean Simoneau at the Volunteer Recruitment Luncheon on September 6. Most of the birds that come to the sanctuary are injured by fishing line and hooks, says Simoneau.

“Pelicans are hooked, trapped and dying at alarming rates,” she said. ”We need more rescuers for the Skyway Pier Wild Bird Rescue Program. We want to be here forever and we want to continue to work with the birds. We are doing this to educate the public about birds and to give back to wildlife. We need the help of the community to operate and give back to nature.”

The organization depends on volunteers like rescue manager Greg Slutzky. He has been a volunteer at the sanctuary for five years.
“My wife’s parents were rescuing birds. One day I found an injured bird and when I brought her in I found out more about the sanctuary. At that time I wasn’t working and I needed to do something,” Slutzky said.

He volunteers about three days a week at the sanctuary and also works at the gift shop there. He is on call from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. but there are times when he works 12 hours a day in case of emergencies, he says.

“It’s very rewarding to me,” he said. “Birds are our greatest natural resource. Especially the water birds get in trouble with the hook lines. Ninety percent of the injuries of these birds are due to us. It’s our responsibility to save them.”

Some people say, volunteering gives them a continual learning experience about the environment and doing the work provides relief from stressful jobs. Attorney Michelle Booth cleans the cages and feeds the birds on Sundays.

“I had working with animals on the East Coast prior to moving to Tampa a year ago. Shortly after the move I started to volunteer at the sanctuary,” she said.

Volunteering at the sanctuary is very important for Booth. “There are so many injured birds out there. The more money the organization can save on staff, the more money can go for food and medical care for the birds.”

But this year the sanctuary is facing volunteer shortages.

“Last year we had about 120 volunteers,” volunteer manager and gift shop manager Vicki Churchill says.” We hope to find about 20 volunteers today.” She says the non-profit organization gets no governmental help and they depend on the people who care about birds.

“Last year we saw 10,000 injured birds so it takes a very dedicated staff and a lot of outside help to run this place,” Churchill said. “We cover Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. When we have about three volunteers on call, that’s a big area for them to cover. Yesterday volunteer Path Smith was alone covering three counties.”

Volunteers and interns are needed for a variety of tasks, including office work, gift-shop, events, education, bird feeding, docents, maintenance, outside avian assistance, advanced hospital care, bird rescue, emergency projects, and other areas. The sanctuary offers hands-on-training for volunteers.

To volunteer at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary visit seabirdsanctuary.com or call 727-391-6211.

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