By Meagan McGone
BREVARD - After Tropical Storm Debby brought a torrential downpour upon Florida, it left more than 50 baby pelicans homeless in the panhandle.
Luckily, a local nonprofit was able to swoop in.
The Florida Wildlife Hospital and Sanctuary, which admits more than 4,000 sick, injured and orphaned native Florida wildlife and migratory birds every year, took in 23 of the orphaned baby pelicans and will release them in a few months, once they grow their flight feathers, allowing them the ability to fly.
Sue Small, director of Florida Wildlife Hospital and Sanctuary, said even though there is no such thing as a typical week at the hospital, the squawking young birds are keeping the organization busy.
Last month, Florida Wildlife Hospital took in 102 great shearwaters, which are seabirds commonly found near the Atlantic Ocean.
"They were washed onto the beach when the flock was migrating," Ms. Small said. "It was a combination of a lack of food and a bad storm, and the weaker birds couldn't stand the wind and the waves. They were too weak to fly and sat in the water, and they eventually washed up onto the beach. This happens almost every year, but not in those numbers."
The organization aids patients of all kinds, from feathery to furry.
"We probably take in about 60 percent birds, 30 percent mammals and 10 percent reptiles," Ms. Small said
She said of the birds, the most common that the hospital sees are morning doves because they tend to nest and live in proximity to people who find them and bring them in. Squirrels are the most commonly cared for mammal, and gopher tortoises are the most common of the reptiles.
Though the Florida Wildlife Hospital and Sanctuary is state and federally licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it is not a governmental entity and receives no state or federal funding.
"We are a nonprofit organization completely funded by donations and fundraising events," Ms. Small said. "People in the community who want to support what we do help us, which is why we are able to rehabilitate and release native Florida wildlife and migratory birds."
The organization has grown tremendously since its beginnings more than 30 years ago, when its founders tended to in-need animals from their home.
"People would find wildlife that needed help, and though they had good intentions, they did not know how to care for them, and they did more harm than good," said Ms. Small, who has worked for Florida Wildlife Hospital and Sanctuary for 15 years. "So the founders started appropriately caring for the wildlife. We've grown since our establishment."
Volunteers make up most of the organization, and Ms. Small said the group is always looking for more people to lend helping hands.
Ms. Small said it is imperative to spread the word about the Florida Wildlife Hospital and Sanctuary so the community can be informed of its services.
"We have people come here every week and say, 'We didn't know you were here,'" she said. "People think they can care for the animals themselves, and by the time they bring them to us, they're in much worse shape. The more well-known we are, the better we can help the wildlife."
For more information about the Florida Wildlife Hospital and Sanctuary, visit www.floridawildlifehospital.org or call (321) 254-8843.
By the numbers
In 2011, the Florida Wildlife Hospital and Sanctuary admitted 4,443 patients. Below is an overview of last year's patients, provided by the hospital:
. Birds admitted: 2,184
. Mammals admitted: 2,102
. Reptiles admitted: 157
. Most unusual patients: Northern fulmar, horned grebes, black scoter, broadwing hawk
. Southern flying squirrels admitted: 29
. Brown pelicans admitted: 117
. Great horned owls admitted: 18
. Eastern screech owls admitted: 69