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They give a hoot at rehab center

BRADENTON BEACH — One of the arrivals scoped out its new surroundings, peering to and fro in the safety of Ed Straight’s cupped hands.

The 10-day-old yellow crowned night heron was all beak and bad hair.

“Is that not the face only a mother could love?” said Beth Weir, a Wildlife Education & Rehabilitation Center volunteer.

TLC is what the baby heron will get, as will the two new pairs of tiny grackles and downy woodpeckers Weir brought to the shelter.

“Sounds like these guys have an appetite,” said Straight, 70, acknowledging the chorus of open mouths.

It was a typical day for him and his wife Gail, 59, who have run the nonprofit, all-volunteer wildlife organization practically 24/7 for 23 years, averaging 3,000 to 4,000 rescued, rehabilitated and released critters annually.

They were already caring for 100-plus birds, mammals and reptiles, yet made room for more.

Even in these economic times, Mother Nature’s orphans need a home, one whose annual operating budget approaches $50,000.

Which makes this weekend’s blood drive fundraiser so vital.

“Somebody’s got to help wildlife,” said Gail Straight, preparing formula for the newcomers who will be released in the fall. “It’s difficult, but rewarding.”

The aviary behind the Straights’ home reverberates with the sounds of the success wrought by them, their network of volunteers and veterinarians, and community supporters.

What a cacophony of baby blue jays, cardinals, crows, grackles, loggerhead shrikes, mockingbirds and screech owls.

How do they end up here?

“Trees get blown down. Limbs get trimmed,” Ed Straight said. “People don’t like a dead tree on their property and have it removed, but don’t realize there’s a nest.”

Sounds like the yellow crowned night heron had an abrupt exit.

“They make a nest in the top of pine trees and quite often fall out from a high wind. Other times siblings kick them out,” he said, placing the bird in an incubator to warm it up. “This one looks like he made the fall OK, but some of them don’t.”

There are other cruel fates that befall the center’s other residents.

Athena, a 2-year-old regal great horned owl, is one.

“Her parents brought a rat that was poisoned back to the nest,” Straight said. “Both parents and a sibling ended up dead, but she had a cerebral hemorrhage.”

She is blind in the left eye.

Because of state and federal permits, the Straights are able to keep Athena to show at schools and the like for educational purposes.

“She’s very good, very gentle,” Ed Straight said.

When a rehabbed bird is able to be released, the center has to be particular as to where.

“If we put a great blue heron in another great blue heron’s territory, they’ll kill each other,” Straight said. “We have to find an area not taken already. If there’s another heron around, you’ll hear them.”

As for releasing that yellow crowned night heron?

He’s got to grow some before that happens.

“He’ll turn out to be a beautiful bird, even if he is a little fuzzy right now,” Straight said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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