From an aviary by Ken Thompson Park,   a group of volunteers oversees the wellbeing of birdlife all along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The facility currently serves as the permanent home to 200 rescued birds, and volunteers here rescue more than 5,000 animals a year on average, whether from natural disasters like hurricanes or man-made catastrophe like the 2008 oil spill. Now, Executive Director Dave Pilston hopes to improve the facilities and expand the range of services for Save Our Seabirds. As Mote Aquarium prepares to leave City Island, Save Our Seabirds feels intent on making its facilities the best destination on City Island, providing visitors a reason to come watch the birds as they once had in seeing sharks. “Our goal is to establish a lasting world-class rehabilitation, education and research organization that will continue to fulfill our mission for generations to come,” Pilston says.  The organization just signed a 20-year lease with the city of Sarasota, with two 10-year options afterward. That could firm up the legacy of the 27-year-old organization. Continuity at the facility will be vital, Save Our Seabirds leaders know. After the 2003 death of original benefactor Dale Shields, funding shortages forced the closure of Save Our Seabirds from 2006 through 2008. The facility re-opened largely thanks to having a $1 lease with the city. Already, Florida Fish and Wildlife officials list Save Our Seabirds as the premier rehabilitation hospital in Florida for birds, which has meant dozens of birds poisoned by red tide-infected fish and plankton filled the facility through the summer. Pilston says the vitality of the organization means more than a bird-watching locale in Sarasota. One in eight bird species right now faces the threat of extinction over the next decade, and organizations like Save Our Seabirds dedicate themselves to keeping avian neighbors safe even as modern life changes the world around them.

PHOTO BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.