Meet our ambassadors

Meet our ambassadors

Our primary goal at Peace River Wildlife Center is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured, orphaned, and ill native Florida wildlife.  Our secondary mission is to educate the public.  This is the reason we have display habitats at our facility.  People can see the unreleasable birds up close, learn how and why they got injured, and hopefully stop that same thing from happening to another animal.

Jackson Andritsch meets Orion

Jackson Andritsch meets Orion

We have over 100,000 visitors every year at our wildlife center, but we also reach countless others through our online presence with our website, Facebook page, and other social media outlets.  We also have a troupe of volunteers heading up PRWC’s outreach efforts, headed up by Sue Gilleo.  How she keeps all these events and volunteers straight, is a testament to the fact that she used to be a teacher and is used to being pulled in many directions at one time.

What started out with one retired school principal, Maryanne Sakamoto, going to Fishermen’s Village once a week to give lectures with a screech owl in a cage, has turned into one of our most popular features.  We used to show up at the occasional street fair or church social with a table and some brochures, and invariably heard, “I’ve lived here for 45 years and never heard of PRWC!”

Fast forward a few years, and we now have three glove-trained birds of our own and three more that our seasonal volunteers bring with them from New York.  We also have Blossom the opossum, who blissfully sleeps through outreach events in the loving arms of whichever volunteer is lucky enough to call dibs on her on any given day.  And now we are welcomed at every event with a chorus of, “Yay, Luna’s here!”

Luna, a leucistic (albino) screech owl; Bella, a great horned owl; and Orion, a barred owl are our resident glove-trained birds that greet the public on the boardwalk at the Center or go out into the public to various venues.  John and Diane Hime, wildlife rehabbers from upstate NY, bring their education birds with them when they flee the ice and snow each winter.  Hootin’ Annie, a great horned owl; Maggie, a barred owl; and Allister, a red-tailed hawk are quite literally snowbirds that help PRWC spread the word locally, spending their winters at PRWC when they are not out at events.

Our outreach now includes trips to Fishermen’s Village twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.  We are also out in the community almost every weekend and many week days at schools, clubs, and events.

John, Annie, and Luna at a car show

John, Annie, and Luna at a car show

On Saturday January 27, we will be at the Mopar Car Show at the new location of Rick Treworgy’s Muscle Car City Museum (10175 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda.)  That location is just south of their previous site, (for us old-timers, where Sweetbay used to be.)  Luna will be there from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. trying to decide which vintage vehicle he would most like to fly over and anoint with his personal “Luna’s choice” award.

After a morning of car shopping, join us at the 7th Annual Charlotte Harbor Chili Challenge & Beer Festival at Laishley Park, also Saturday January 27 from noon to 5 p.m.  PRWC will be serving our award-winning Road Kill Chili and there will be beer, live music, and (did I mention?) beer.  Some of our well-behaved glove-trained birds will be in attendance as well as some of our volunteers (whose behavior may leave a bit to be desired.)  Come out and vote for us as your People’s Choice award winner with the token you receive on admission.

PRWC will have a booth at the Charlotte County Fair at the Charlotte County Fair Grounds (2333 El Jobean Rd, Port Charlotte) starting Friday January 26 and running through Sunday February 4.  We may not have birds there due to the number of adoptable dogs that will be in the same tent, because our birds get a little nervous around that kind of commotion.  We will have brochures and flyers and an amazing display board that our volunteer Maria Metge just spent weeks (and the GNP of a small county) putting together.  Okay, so for the price of a glue stick and a couple photos on sale from Walgreens, it must have been one of those very small countries.  Definitely not Norway.

Callie and Bella

Callie and Bella

Next month is shaping up to be just as busy.  Stay informed with PRWC’s website and Facebook event calendars to know where in the world we may be on any given day.  Rest assured the Center is always open seven days a week, 365 days a year, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for visitors.  Depending on the weather or our outreach agenda, if you want to see a particular animal or presentation, call in advance of your visit to verify the schedule for that day.

Education is a very important component of what we do at PRWC.  The animals that are being rehabilitated with the ultimate goal of eventual release, are not, by law, permitted to be shown to the public.  Having unreleasable education animals is a wonderful way to engage the public with our message.  Our volunteers make great ambassadors and have a fun time doing it.

by-Robin Jenkins, DVM

2017 rehab stats

2017 rehab stats

The rehabbers at Peace River Wildlife Center did an amazing job in 2017.  They treated 2,443 injured, ill, or orphaned wild animals—another record for patient intake.  Thanks to the support of the community, PRWC has been able to hire a few more part-time employees to help with patient care, but we still rely on our army of volunteers to get us through the day.

The rehabbers are tasked with managing the care of the patients and residents at PRWC.  They spend their days tending to the weak and broken.  Is it any wonder that their compassion does not extend to people?  At least not to me.  I’m pretty sure they are trying to get me killed.  They often send me on rescues or releases into dubious conditions.

I was recently given a nest box full of baby squirrels that we had raised at PRWC.  They had been in home care for weeks, then placed in outdoor habitats back at the Center to get them used to being outside.  When the time came for their release back into the wild, we locked them into the nest box in their habitat, reattach it to a tree at a location where at least one of them was originally found, and then open the box to allow them to explore their new (old) home at their leisure.

The directions I was given to find this nirvana seemed fairly straightforward.  The homeowners at the given address were out of town for a few days, but gave us permission to return the squirrels.  There was no ladder onsite, so I had to bring my own.  Not an ideal situation, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

When I got there, the garage door was wide open as were the windows.  This was a rural community, but no one is going to leave for a few days and leave everything wide open.  I had either been given the wrong address (wouldn’t be the first time) or they hadn’t left yet.  I rang the doorbell, and hearing nothing, knocked.  At this point I probably should have left the property.  I, of course, just started hiking around, looking for a good tree in which to attach the squirrel box.

Around the first corner there was a ladder leaning up against the side of the house.  Further proof that I was in the wrong place.  But, having found a fun tree to climb, I gathered my equipment and began the task.  Balancing a drill and a couple screws, plus the nest box full of juvenile squirrels careening around inside, I climbed up the ladder to a fork in the tree where I could lean the box while attaching it to the trunk.

Mission accomplished, I returned my gear to my car and placed the homeowner’s ladder where I found it.  Still no one threatening me with a shotgun.  No vicious attack Rottweiler coming at me á la Cujo.  I’m still pretty sure I had the wrong place.  Won’t these people be surprised when they get home from work and find a weird little wooden box in their tree?

While the rehabbers failed to get me shot or mauled by a guard dog on this adventure, I did get two screws in one tire.  So, they did have some satisfaction.  Oh, how I love badly rutted dirt roads in my Volt—which was made for minimum wind resistance, not the Baja 1000.

Happy to have provided some entertainment for my overworked staff back at PRWC, I have finished tallying the numbers for 2017.  Our patient total of 2,443 reflects an increase of approximately 10% over last year.  We had a few more mammals than birds this year, an unusual occurrence.  Since PRWC’s educational exhibits include mostly birds, many people thank we treat only avian species.  Our 2017 statistics show we treated 44% birds, 48% mammals, and 8% reptiles.

We saw a total of 113 different bird species, 27 different mammals, and 28 different reptiles.  The top three types of birds were mourning doves, northern mockingbirds, and common grackles.  The three most common mammals seen were eastern cottontails, eastern grey squirrels, and Virginia opossums.  Gopher tortoises comprise the vast majority of reptiles we see.

One of the most important figures at year’s end is patient outcome.  Overall, PRWC had a positive outcome for 49% of our patients, and a negative outcome for 51%.  A positive outcome includes patients that recovered well enough to be released, or were transferred to another facility for continued care or to become an education resident. 

It is an unfortunate fact that some patients are dead on arrival, or very nearly so.  After removing patients that do not survive the first 24 hours of care, our positive outcome increases to 82%.  That number is increased over last year and that is definitely good news.

Thanks to the community that supports us both financially and by volunteering their time, PRWC is able to help the injured, ill, and orphaned wild animals in and around Charlotte County.  A huge thanks to our employees who, while being paid to do the job, could be making much more money if employed by a for-profit company.  Wildlife rehabilitation is a labour of love and we all love the animals we are able to help and all the other people who assist us in that endeavor.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Neonatal Squirrels

Neonatal Squirrels

Eastern Grey Squirrels four weeks old

Eastern Grey Squirrels four weeks old

Baby squirrel weaning

Baby squirrel weaning

Bright year ahead

Bright year ahead

As 2018 dawns, Peace River Wildlife Center is at a crossroads in its existence.  Started in 1978 on the lanai of local veterinarian, Dr. Jerry Gingerich, PRWC quickly outgrew those humble beginnings.  By 1987 the wildlife rehabilitation facility began its journey to the edge of Ponce de Leon Park, thanks to a generous lease by the City of Punta Gorda.

With a steady annual increase in patient load, PRWC is poised for expansion again.  2017 was another record-breaking year for injured animal intake.  We are bursting at the seams and desperately need to increase cage and habitat numbers and sizes.  The City of Punta Gorda has once again offered to help us to help the community.  If all goes according to plan, we will be breaking ground on our new facility in April of this year.

The new location is mere steps away from our current one, but will consist of an acre—a little more than twice the space we have now.  Most of that extra space will be taken up by additional rehab and hospital caging.  But with the combination of our many outbuildings into one, we hope to have more display habitats also. 

The first thing people will notice when they enter Ponce de Leon Park will be our new building.  Designed by ADG architecture, it will incorporate our office, hospital, surgery, laundry room, and gift shop—all of which are now spread out over four separate tiny buildings.  The current set-up is a waste of space and energy, having been cobbled together as PRWC grew over the years.  It has served us well for over three decades, but is being held together with duct tape and wishes at this point.

The pièce de résistance will be the new educational habitats.  Thanks to the pro bono work by engineer Jim Herston, the entire park will be redesigned.  PRWC’s space will encompass new habitats for all of our residents and educational birds, where they will live in natural settings indicative of their homes in the wild.

Behind the scenes will be the biggest change for our amazing staff—employees and volunteers alike.  We will have more caging in which the injured and orphaned animals will recover and grow up.  As always, these patients cannot legally be on display to the public, in an effort to minimize their contact with people and keep them as wild as possible for their imminent release.  But we do plan to have video monitors in place, so people can watch what happens during some of the rehab process in the comfort of our new education center.

The gift shop, one of our biggest sources of income, will be enlarged so that we can offer more merchandise and have room for more than three shoppers at a time.  If you have ever tried to purchase one of our Luna mugs or Bella t-shirts, you know that the current gift shop can get a little crowded.  In addition to a larger brick and mortar gift shop, we are in the process of getting some of our more popular branded products on-line with an e-commerce gift shop.  That way people can shop even after they have returned home, whether that home is in PGI, Port Charlotte, or Prague.

The Chinese calendar has declared 2018 the Year of the Dog.  I predict that 2018 will be the year of PRWC.  I see big things happening for us during the coming months, and want to thank everyone who has helped, is helping, and will help make it happen.  Not too long ago the future looked pretty dim for PRWC, but the community rallied around us to make us survivors.  The community has spoken…it is time for us to go… on to bigger and better things.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Big things are coming for PRWC this year.

Big things are coming for PRWC this year.

Red tide maroons bluebills

Red tide maroons bluebills

Peace River Wildlife Center has had a tragic influx of patients in the past few weeks.  We have taken in over 40 lesser scaups (locally called bluebills by many people), mostly found in the Port Charlotte Beach and Bayshore Park areas.  Many of them died in transport or shortly after arrival, and more were found dead on site.  It is assumed that red tide is the culprit, and we are treating the surviving patients accordingly—with moderate success if they get into treatment early enough.

Thanks to some alert community members, more birds were brought to us while they still had a chance for recovery.  PRWC’s volunteer rescuers Barb and Tom Taylor were instrumental in getting many birds to us.  They patrolled the areas where most of the debilitated birds were found numerous times daily, at dawn and during tide changes. 

One boater pulled a white pelican out of the water near the mouth of the Myakka River. He then drove his boat to the El Jobean bridge where he met PRWC rescuers Lee and Charlotte Dewitt, who in turn drove the bird to PRWC.  

A lady hopped the sea wall, scratching up her legs in the process, to collect a scaup who was drowning on the shore of Charlotte Harbor.  A man pulled a scaup out of the water and into his kayak, and then paddled for close to two hours to get the distressed bird to us.  Another man jumped the fence at TT’s Tiki Bar to rescue a scaup from the rocks. 

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department Marine Unit patrolled the shores and kept us apprised of what they found.  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) also patrolled the areas and helped us with rescues.  They also transported the birds that did not survive for necropsy. 

Lesser scaups are a medium-sized duck that nests in the boreal forests of Central Alaska and Manitoba.  They migrate in late fall, among the last to leave as ponds freeze over.  In the winter they can be found in the Gulf region, Mexico, Central America, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean.  Males and non-breeding females head out slightly earlier for southern locales.  Breeding females stay with their broods as long as possible before embarking on the chicks’ first journey. 

Since the lesser scaup is one of the last species to migrate back up north in the spring to begin breeding, their offspring are quite young during their first fall migration.  They are a precocial species, and chicks are hatched with their eyes open, covered in down, and able to move around on their own.  The youngsters leave the nest within hours of hatching and feed themselves immediately.  They can dive the day they are hatched, but are too buoyant to stay down long.  By five to seven weeks, they are capable of diving up to 60 feet and staying down for up to 25 seconds.

A rather distinctive diving duck, the lesser scaup is similar in appearance to the great scaup, which is only slightly larger, but rarely frequents Southwest Florida.  The male has a black domed head, neck, and mantle. His irises are a brilliant yellow and his bill is slate blue (hence the colloquial name).   The female is a greyish-brown, with olive-green irises and a dark bill with white feathers at the base.  Both sexes have white bellies and secondary wing feathers with a dark band at the edge, visible in flight.

The lesser scaup is carnivorous.  Its diet is primarily comprised of crustaceans, insects, and mollusks.  While it is one of the most widespread ducks in North America, it is not well studied, especially in the Southwest Florida region.

The one positive note of losing all these birds, is that FWC will be able to study the ducks that did not survive and learn more about this species, especially as it pertains to those migrating to and through this area.  While routinely a late migrator (September to November), the peak scaup migration usually occurs in mid- to late November.  This rather late migration, combined with a local red tide outbreak, may have been too much for the birds.  If there are any other factors involved, FWC will find out and notify us.  The results of those tests will be invaluable to us in treating the current birds as well as future patients.

PRWC wants to commend the local community members who went out of their way to help us with numerous rescues.  We are also grateful to those who donated toward the care of these critically ill birds, which is quite labour-intensive and demands the use of a lot of expensive supplies.  Whether you concur with famed elder statesperson Clinton about the necessity of collaboration for childhood upbringing, it does indeed take a village to conserve wildlife, and we are grateful for the support of our village-community.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Lesser scaups recovering in hospital cage

Lesser scaups recovering in hospital cage

Icarus falls again

Icarus falls again

Icarus was a figure in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun, melted his wings, and then fell into the water.  Peace River Wildlife Center admitted a bald eagle this week who was apparently acting out this tragedy.  It would seem I am not the only one who has been struck by the thespian bug.

Earlier this week, a couple in a PGI neighborhood heard a loud bang.  Assuming it was their pool pump, they ran outside to see what had happened.  (I wonder what their rascally pool pump has been up to lately for them to have assumed the worst of it.)  When they got outside, they saw an eagle swimming in the canal behind their house.  They immediately called Peace River Wildlife Center, while their neighbors called the Punta Gorda Police Department.

Luckily for me, I was on desk duty that day.  (If you cannot read the sarcasm between those lines, you must be a new reader.  And, so, welcome.)  PRWC’s office staff member had to leave a few minutes early, so I had agreed to answer the phones for an hour.  What’s the worst that could happen?  Well, how about an eagle catching on fire?

I gathered up some rescue equipment and flew out the door as quickly as I could.  By the time I got there, PGPD Officers Tony Pribble and Joe Farley were already on scene.  With the assistance of passing boater Dave Dyke, we were able to corral the bird against the seawall and scoop him out of the canal.  We bundled him into a waiting kennel and got him into treatment at PRWC.

FPL and PRWC representatives examined the area the next day and found the pole where the incident likely occurred to document it. The bird appears to have been burned while trying to eat a fish atop a power pole overlooking the canal.  There was a large burned area of grass at the base of the pole, where the flaming eagle may have landed after causing a spark when he dropped his wet fish.  He then proceeded to flounder into the canal, which likely helped keep him from getting more severe burns.

All of his feathers were singed—head, body, tail, and both wings.  There was superficial damage to the skin on his wings and some sloughing of the skin on one of his feet.  Otherwise, he appeared to be relatively healthy.  There was no singing in the mucous membranes of his nares or throat, so his respiratory system seemed to have been unaffected by the heat and flames.  His lungs sounded clear, so it would seem he did not take in any water during his brief swim—thanks to the quick actions of the neighbors who reported him and Officer Pribble who scooped him out of the canal.

Our Icarus unfortunately did have a brood patch on his belly.  This is an area of skin on the lower abdomen where the bird has plucked his feathers out in order to pass body heat to his eggs or hatchling chicks.  Bald eagle nesting season in southwest Florida is from October to February, so this adult male and his mate could be preparing their nest, laying and sitting on eggs, or even rearing hatchlings already.  “Papa” will be out of commission for quite some time while his feathers molt to new, functional ones.  Hopefully mom will be able to fend for herself and the new family for a while.

Since birds do not molt all their feathers at the same time, Icarus could be in rehab for an extended period of time.  It can take up to three years for a bald eagle to replace every feather on his body.  Time will tell if Icarus will be able to return to the wild, but at this time we are cautiously optimistic.  While he cannot be on display to the public during his rehab, we will provide periodic updates at the Center, on our web site, and on our Facebook page.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Icarus' right wing

Icarus’ right wing

Icarus' left wing

Icarus’ left wing