South Florida's Wild Side - Summer 2021

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Summer 2021

South Florida Wildlife Center’s Quarterly Newsletter | Education | Patient Updates | Events


Foundation Grant Recipients


Meet our


Great Blue Heron by Bonnie Masdeu See the other winners on pages 8-9!

954.524.4302 • Hours: 9:00AM - 5:00PM


Our mission:



TABLE OF CONTENTS Executive Director Alessandra Medri Senior Development Director Kari Allen, MBA Director of Outreach Carolina Segarra Medical Director Antonia Gardner, DVM Veterinarian Renata Schneider, DVM Office Manager JoAnne Mayz Development Specialist Courtney Trzcinski Rehabilitation and Release Supervisor Mariangelique Diaz Fallick Clinic Supervisor Christel Sama Nursery Supervisor Jessica Sayre Sonzogni Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator Julie D’Errico Facilities Manager Glenn Georgis


SFWC Awarded Grant from Community Foundation of Broward

06 Meet our Ambassador Animals 08 Photo Contest Winners 10 | Wild Lecture Series 12 | Quarter in Review 15 | Living with Coyotes 19 | Species Spotlight 21 | Spring Migration

Too big for the nest, too small to fly. This Coopers Hawk took the “early bird special” quite literally. Soon after arriving, he was reunited with his family.

23 | Upcoming Events

Cover photo credit, Great Blue Heron by Bonnie Masdeu Photo by Shelby Whitebread

Maintenance Technician Anthony Weare Community Service Coordinators: Sharon Gallardy Joshua Rodriguez Jordan Wheatley Wildlife Rehabilitation Specialists: Sanita Bromfield Ericka Dukes Nick Sonzogni Melanie Lemiux Maria Vanegas Jessica Ferrigno Jocelyn Phillips Rachel Grusby Veterinary Assistants: Sandy Pagel Shelby Whitebread

@SouthFloridaWildlifeCenter 3200 SW 4th Avenue Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33315 954.524.4302

Wild rabbits like this Eastern cottontail are naturally elusive and shy creatures. Many of us have them living all around us and have never even noticed. This adult cottontail rabbit finds comfort in her outdoor enclosure as she prepared for release.


Joshua Rubin submitted this photo of a Wood Stork and won the Junior category of the Wildlife Photo Contest.

How quickly time flies, even during a pandemic! Yet here we are, in the blink of an eye, seven months into 2021, having admitted over 5,000 wildlife patients and counting. Summertime constantly buzzes with activity when the number of wildlife cases encompassing so many different species is moving through the rehabilitation process all at one time! Our staff – hardworking and passionate – ensure each individual patient is provided the very best care until ready for release. As to the volunteers who help us during these busy times, we simply cannot thank you enough. Our Executive Director, Alessandra Medri, jumped right in with both feet at a sprint pace months ago and is making significant headway in securing SFWC’s future. She is bringing the SFWC teams together as one, as we celebrate our first year being independent once again. Especially exciting is the impact of our mission for the community we serve when they need our help the most—with injured, orphaned, and sick wildlife or when they inquire about how to better co-exist with our wild neighbors. We have often said, “It takes a village” – (supporters, board members, staff, volunteers) working in partnership with our community to make a difference for all the creatures with whom we share this planet. We love our community, and thank YOU for your great support! | 3

SFWC AWARDED GRANT TO RESCUE, TREAT AND REHABILITATE WILDLIFE FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – (April 6, 2021) – South Florida Wildlife Center, which has been caring for wildlife in crisis since 1969, has received a $30,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Broward from the following Funds: Helen and Frank Stoykov Charitable Endowment Fund, Helen Victoria Foote Fund, and David and Francie Horvitz Family Fund. The support will be used to rescue, treat, and rehabilitate up to 2,000 sick, injured, and orphaned animals. The project will also launch a new wildlife foster program: HomeCare Heroes, to educate and engage residents to care for infant wildlife until they are old enough to move into a customized outdoor habitat, to aid the transition into their natural environment once released back into the wild. “South Florida Wildlife Center treats all injured and orphan wildlife, especially during “baby season,” which runs from March through September,” stated South Florida Wildlife Center Executive Director Alessandra Medri. “Thousands of animals like Gray Squirrels, Virginia Opossums, and Northern Mockingbirds are brought in by the local community. They arrive too young or injured and in need of assistance. The support of the Community Foundation of Broward will enable us to provide the veterinary care, specialized diets, and rehabilitation these animals need to survive and recover.”

Photo by Jessica Sonzogni

Photo by Jessica Sonzogni

About the Community Foundation of Broward: Founded in 1984, the Community Foundation of Broward helps families, individuals, and organizations create personalized charitable Funds that deliver game-changing philanthropic impact. 479 charitable Funds represent more than $200 million in assets, distributing $131 million in grants over the past 36 years. The Community Foundation provides bold leadership on community solutions and fosters philanthropy that connects people who care with causes that matter. The Foundation empowers visionaries, innovators, and doers to create the change they want to see in the community – and to BE BOLD.

4 | South Florida’s WildSide | Summer 2021

Photo by Shelby Whitebread

Herons are common shoreline nesters this time of year. Raising them is labor-intensive, whether by mom or skilled wildlife rehabbers. If you find a baby heron that has fallen from a nest, please keep it warm while you contact a local wildlife hospital for assistance. | 5



is a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) found in someone’s backyard covered in fleas, with no tail, and too small to be alone. The family brought him in concerned that he was born defective, and inquiring if he should have even been left alone at this size/age. When our veterinary team examined him, they discovered his tail was either bitten off by a predator likely trying to eat him, or it was caught in discarded trash and ripped off when he was much younger, since the injury at the base of his tail was already healed. At 93 grams he should have still been on mom’s back but must have fallen off. Mom opossums generally never go back since they are always on the move and never notice when offspring are missing. Deemed too small to be on his own and also diagnosed with flea anemia, Cabbage went into foster care until he was healthier, and further evaluated on whether he could be released. Due to the fact that Virginia opossums are agile climbers and as juveniles use their prehensile tails to swing from branches, and as adults use their tails to grasp bundles of leaves or bedding material, it was determined that Cabbage was unreleasable. Since Cabbage is young and can bond with his handlers, using him for education and showcasing on how unique Virginia opossums are, was the next best outcome. Cabbage will travel with the Outreach Department and represent the Opossum species and the fantastic things they do for our ecosystem.

6 | South Florida’s WildSide | Summer 2021

Kingsley is a Florida Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula floridana) who was captive bred and

sold as a pet. When the owners realized the care a captive snake would need, they changed their minds and surrendered the snake to the South Florida Wildlife Center. Snakes in the wild have precise home ranges, and for a young snake, who has never known the wild, releasing him or her outside would not have been in Kingsley’s best interest. Due to Kingsleys age and size, it was decided that Kingsley would be a great first Ambassador Animal for SFWC. Kingsley will travel with the Outreach team and educate the public about the natural history of reptiles and encourage peaceful coexistence between the community and our native wildlife. Kingsley will appear at public events and local school programs and will represent snakes everywhere. The objectives for Kingsley will be to educate the public about the natural history of Kingsnakes, the role snakes provide in the ecosystem, the similarity of reptiles to other taxa, the variety of wildlife SFWC admits and gives our staff the opportunity to explain things one can do to help their environment and snakes like Kingsley. | 7


Best in Mammal Linda Wilinski In Their Eyes Bonnie Masdeu

Best in Reptile Peter W. Cross

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WINNERS Urban Kimberly Switzer

Best in Bird Ian Morrison

SFWC’s first annual Wildlife Photography Contest received nearly 1,000 entries. We are in awe of all the support we felt during this contest and are thrilled with the diversity our participants were able to capture. Special thanks to our judge, Clyde Butcher, and his team. Best Overall is featured on the cover, and Best in the Junior Category is featured on page 3. | 9



Missed our talks this quarter? Check them out on YouTube!

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Donations are one of the most incredible acts of kindness that one could ever give. SFWC is beyond grateful to receive these generous gifts from our local community, who help provide the financial and moral support needed to continue our mission. Your contributions over the years have demonstrated your deep commitment to our work of rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing Florida’s wildlife. Your support has repeatedly played a key role in our success in helping thousands of injured, sick, or orphaned wild animals. There is no way to express our gratitude for your loyalty fully. We at SFWC are continually inspired by the dedication and generosity of donors like these who answer the call to help again and again. We hope that this acknowledgement will help to express our enormous thanks for your generosity. We look forward to a continuing partnership with you all!

THANK YOU Publix # 1097 in Harbor Shops, Publix # 70

in Coral Ridge Shopping Center and Whole Foods Market in | 11 Fort Lauderdale!

SECOND QUARTER IN REVIEW April 1, 2021 – June 30, 2021

Total Patients Total Species



Birds 2,447 Mammals 973 Reptiles 80 Amphibians 1



Hours Donated

5,992 Gopher Tortoise

Photo by Broward County Parks & Rec

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Meet some of our patients this quarter: Photo by Maria Vanegas

Photo by Shelby Whitebread

Common Grackle Photo by Shelby Whitebread

Gray Fox

Cooper’s Hawk

Chimney Swift

Photo by Jessica Sonzogni

Photo by Shelby Whitebread

Marsh Rabbit

Gray Squirrel | 13

Photo by Antonia Gardner, DVM 14 | South Florida’s WildSide | Spring 2021

This juvenile coyote was found dehydrated and alone. After a few days with us, the neighborhood’s residents where she came from spotted mom, and this little one was reunited that same evening!

LIVING WITH COYOTES In the last six months, SFWC has admitted 6 Coyotes who were either orphaned (juvenile featured on the left), weak/sick enough to be captured without issue, or were hit by a car and left injured on the side of the road. In the past, coyotes were only found in the western portion of the United States, but now they can be found in all States except for Hawaii. In Florida, they have actually been documented in all 67 Counties. As highly adaptable animals that can thrive in any type of forest, farmland, suburban or urban area, coyotes are becoming more common to see here in South Florida. Why should we be excited that Coyotes are here? Coyotes help maintain a balanced ecosystem and control the populations of rodents and small predators that can quickly overpopulate in small home ranges. Are coyotes coyotes here to stay? They sure are. What do you do when you see a coyote? For the most part, a coyote will rarely pose a threat to people, especially adults. They are curious creatures but are shy and generally run away if they feel threatened or challenged. If they approach too closely, there are ways to haze the animal to run away safely: by making loud noises and waving your arms around, coyotes typically retreat and will be on their way. The best way to avoid a coyote would be never to feed them, intentionally or unintentionally. Cleaning up pet food, fallen fruit, seeds from bird feeders and

keeping the trash tidy, will discourage a coyote to view your property as a place to find food. Additionally, closing off small spaces under porches, sheds, and keeping your backyard maintained, will also prevent coyotes from resting or raising their young around your home. Don’t want want coyotes at all in your backyard? According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “removing coyotes for the purpose of eradication is an inefficient and ineffective method to control populations. New coyotes move into areas where others have been removed. Removal activities such as hunting and trapping place pressure on coyote populations, and the species responds by reproducing at a younger age and producing more pups per litter; populations can quickly return to their original size.” Coyotes are here to stay. As we continue to encroach on their habitat, learning to live with our wild neighbors is more crucial than ever. If you do encounter a coyote that has lost its fear of humans and is approaching people, chasing joggers and bikers, or attacking leashed pets, please let FWC know by calling 561-625-5122. We must appreciate wildlife from a distance, dispose of trash properly, do what we can to eliminate pollution, and be careful when driving as the roads we use are shared by all. | 15

BAT SEASON AT SFWC Photo by Jessica Sonzogni

KEY THINGS TO REMEMBER: This year, we are seeing more bats than usual, but we are also seeing a greater diversity in species of bats. In addition, more moms with babies are also being brought to SFWC, which hasn’t been seen in previous seasons. Though we don’t know just yet why these cases may be, we wanted to equip our community with some information on what to do if you find an injured baby or a mom with babies. Most of the individuals brought in were found dehydrated and facing downwards in open areas, located on sidewalks away from trees and under dead bushes. Though it may not seem like it, bats are a labor-intensive and meticulous species for wildlife rehabbers to care for, but it is worth every bit of effort. Bats provide vital services in insect pest consumption, plant pollination, and seed dispersal, making them essential to the health of global ecosystems. 16 | South Florida’s WildSide | Summer 2021

If you have found an orphaned, sick, o injured bat, DO NOT touch this anima with your bare hands. These animal are rabies vector species, meaning the can transmit rabies to other animals o people. Though very unlikely, since rab cases are far and few in between, we wan to keep everyone safe. Remember nev to attempt to feed, treat, or wash an- in jured bat or try to rehabilitate a bat o your own. Bats are easily agitated by ligh and noise, so keep the animal in a box o pillowcase and keep the car quiet durin transport. If you do get bit, please call 91 or go to an ER right away.


Photo by Jessica Sonzogni

If you find a bat hanging from a wall or a tree and think it might be injured: -Wait until evening and see if it leaves on its own. Sometimes bats look sick or hurt but are actually just sleeping! -If the bat doesn’t leave by the following day, please call us at (954) 524-4302. If you find a bat in your home: -Open all doors and windows that lead outside. -Close off the rest of the house, leaving a path from the bat’s location to the outdoors. -Turn off the lights. -Leave the bat for a few hours to see if it leaves on its own. -If it does not leave, please call us.

If you find a bat lying on the ground: -Without touching the bat, use a cloth or a piece of paper to gently scoop the animal into a small container such as a shoebox with small holes or a pillowcase. -If using a box, put a soft cloth into the box to give the bat something to cling to. -Cover the ventilated container or gently tie off the end of the pillowcase and put it somewhere children and pets cannot disturb it. -Depending on the time of day, please call us for further instruction or take to our overnight partner. If it is a mother bat with babies attached, and she is not injured, do the following: -Touch a small tree branch to the adult bat's feet. -Once she grabs the branch, slowly move to the branches of a nearby tree. -Secure the branch in the tree at least 6 feet above the ground, out of the sun, and protected from rain. -Check on the bats the following morning. If the mother and babies are in the same position or if the babies are alone and the mother is gone, please call us. | 17


Photo by Broward County Parks & Rec 18 | South Florida’s WildSide | Spring 2021

GOPHER TORTOISE South Florida is a unique place where the landscape has been manipulated for our comfort and leisure, while wildlife has always had to adapt. Human interference usually has negative consequences for nature, but in some cases, it can benefit wildlife. In North Broward County, A 53-acre island, originally known as Al Capone’s Island, was created by cutting three canals into the mainland and placing the dredged earth onto the remaining land. The name of the island was eventually changed and is known today as Deerfield Island. It is only accessible by boat, and it has become a safe refuge for wildlife devoided of cars, construction, or feral cats.

The tortoise was identified as an exotic Chaco tortoise (Chelonoidis chilensis) that had been released illegally on the island and had an advanced stage of “shell rot.” Shell rot is a fungal infection that affects both aquatic and terrestrial turtles’ carapace (top shell) and plastron (bottom shell). The fungus causes the shell to become weak, flaky and compromises the turtles’ health and defense mechanisms. Soon after, there was evidence of similar shell rot on multiple Gopher tortoises. The more severe cases were brought to SFWC for treatment.

The species that has benefited the most from this unique habitat is the protected Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). Considered a vulnerable species, the Gopher tortoise has less habitat and more predators than ever due to rampant development. Having been isolated on this island for nearly 70 years, these tortoises have been allowed to live in peace, unharmed by the ever-changing landscape of south Florida. The population grew to an estimated 30+ members considered to be in good health until only recently.

Medical Director Antonia Gardner, DVM, became very concerned that this fungal growth on the shell may be highly contagious to other tortoises on the island, or it could be a sign that conditions in the area are not ideal for shell health. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was promptly alerted. Plans have begun to improve the habitat and in partnership with the University of Florida, FWC will analyze the specific fungus afflicting the Gopher tortoise population to: characterize the infection, better treat those affected, and, if necessary, improve the conditions for the resident tortoises on the island.

In early April, Broward County Park staff noticed a strange behavior of one of the tortoises on the island. Senior Natural Resources Specialist Michel Therrien, from the Natural Resources and Land Management Section, reached out to South Florida Wildlife Center (SFWC) staff for consultation. Julie D’Errico, a SFWC staff member, who has worked with this species over the years and has played a critical role in returning this species back into the wild once the treatment at SFWC was complete was able to assist. D’Errico quickly validated his concerns, and recommended the tortoise be brought to SFWC for evaluation and potential treatment.

Theories that the shell rot may have stemmed from the non-native Chaco tortoise found on the island, or that decreased sunlight reaching the Gopher tortoises due to invasive plants like the Australian Pine (Casuarina equisetifolia) have been speculated. Regardless of the origin of the shell rot, the Gopher tortoises are now receiving the medical care they need, and the Broward County Parks and Recreation Division is aggressively removing non-native plants on the island. This was possible thanks to the cooperation and partnerships among local and state governments, the University of Florida, and the South Florida Wildlife Center. | 19

MEET ERICKA Ericka is one of two lead wildlife rehabilitators at SFWC. Ericka started volunteering in September of 2015 and in February of 2016, she was hired as a part-time animal care staff member. She became a full-time staff member in April of the same year. Her favorite part of the job is releasing animals that she has helped to rehabilitate, and see them released back into the wild. As a lead wildlife rehabilitator, Ericka helps oversee the team responsible for the daily care and rehabilitation of the patients at SFWC. She feels she plays a role in SFWC’s mission by assisting the public with rescuing injured animals correctly and safely, and educating them on how to coexist with wildlife humanely. “Ericka is hardworking, multitasking, and cares about her coworkers. She is outgoing, funny, reliable, and her team knows that she always has their backs. She is a fantastic team lead, and we are lucky to have her!”

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Photo by Christel Sama

Yellow Warbler by Ashley Schmal


This year we’ve seen:

Spring brings a certain kind of joy and excitement to the forests, and wetlands of eastern North America. A group of long-awaited travelers return from their trip abroad— migratory birds! However, one group typically considered the “jewels of migration” that SFWC sees this time of year is warblers. Most birders often consider warblers as some of the most exciting migrants that can be seen in spring. The name “jewels of migration” refers to the brightly colored plumage of many warbler species and the excitement that is often felt upon seeing one of these birds. There are over 50 species of warblers in the United States and Canada. Most have traveled from Central and South America to breed here in the United States for the summer. After the summer nesting season ends, they return on the long journey back to the tropics in the fall. However, not all of the warblers we see passing through our area in the spring are here to stay for the summer. Many continue on their journeys northward into areas like the boreal forest, so spring and a short window in fall are often the only time to see some of these species in our area. To see the most diversity in warblers and other migratory birds, visit parks with multiple habitat types. So take your time and look up at the trees or into the shrubs. To read more, click here. Happy birding! | 21

KEY EDUCATIONAL EVENTS THIS QUARTER VIRTUAL CLASSES The Outreach Department presented several virtual classes via different platforms to students of all ages.

Photo by Melanie Lemieux

PRESENTATIONS They also presented at local parks and camps to help educate the community on our wildlife.

OUTREACH & EDUCATION Our ambassador animals wasted no time helping to teach our neighbors their story and the great things their species do.

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LOCAL EVENTS SFWC also partnered with LauderAle Brewery & Tap Room to host a Drink 4 the Locals Charity Event that was wildly successful!


MEET YOUR WILDLIFE NEIGHBORS! Join the South Florida Wildlife Center staff on these Saturdays for a free presentation featuring wild animals.

Photo by Julie D’Errico

6/19 @ 10:30AM 7/17 @ 10:30AM 8/21 @ 10:30AM 9/25 @ 2:30PM 10/16 @ 2:30PM 11/20 @ 2:30PM Presentations will be held at the Monarch Interpretive Center inside Secret Woods Nature Center located at 2701 W State Road 84, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312. For more information, please email us at

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Photo by Julie D’Errico

Wildlife 101

EXPLORE BEYOND YOUR DOOR presentation by the South Florida Wildlife Center on understanding your wild neighbors, how to help if you ever see a wild animal in distress and how you can do your part to help save local wildlife.


at 12 h t 7 2 June t 12PM a h t 5 July 2 t 12PM a h t 9 t2 12PM t a Augus h t er 26 b m e t 12PM t a Sep t s er 31 12PM t Octob a h t ber 28 m e v No

Presentations will be held at the CALDWELL PAVILION at SNYDER PARK (3299 S.W. 4th Ave, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315) right across from the South Florida Wildlife Center. Free to attend but parking fees apply.

Photo by Jeffrey



For more information, please email us at

SFWC WISH LIST Our lifesaving work requires a variety of items to treat injured and orphaned wildlife. There are several ways to check out our “Wish List” of supplies needed to keep our wildlife hospital operating 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Many of the specific items can be found and purchased through our Amazon Baby Registry or Chewy Wishlist.

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Photo by Julie D’Errico

THANK YOU! As development continues in South Florida, the need for our wildlife hospital is more critical than ever. Our number of admitted patients continues to rise, but so does our family of supporters. Thanks to your assistance, our mission continues to rescue, rehabilitate, and release wildlife, while also educating our community on how to coexist with our wild neighbors. As the world begins to re-open, we hope you will join us at events out in the community, and partake in opportunities at the center when available. We are eager to continue working together to make a difference for our South Florida wildlife.



Volunteers, interns, and externs play a critical role at the South Florida Wildlife Center by increasing our ability to rescue and rehabilitate sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife. We have opportunities available in wildlife rehabilitation, veterinary medicine, our nursery, outreach and education, and more.


Check us out on social media and share what we are up to. Join us for events and help us spread awareness about wildlife protection and species preservation.

@SouthFloridaWildlifeCenter | 27

Sleep like a baby

squirrel, opossum, blue jay, pelican, hawk...

It’s baby season, they all need your help.


Photo by Julie D’Errico

Learn more 954.524.4302 3200 SW 4th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315 Hours: 9:00AM - 5:00PM @SouthFloridaWildlifeCenter