Kelly Grinter of the Marathon Wild Bird Center tends to the resident birds. LANCE HILL/Contributed

The Marathon Wild Bird Center is celebrating its silver anniversary this year. For the past 25 years, the nonprofit has been rescuing and rehabilitating injured wild birds. 

Kelly Grinter, who runs the center, established it in 1994 to fulfill an urgent need in Marathon for wild bird care. 

“Jeanie Ward of Knight’s Key Campground could no longer handle the number of injured wild birds that were coming into the park in need of first aid and a ride to Laura Quinn at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier,” Grinter told the Weekly. “I was a 26-year-old intern of Laura’s and she turned and asked me if I wanted to start my own bird center. And, so it began.”

Since then, over 20,000 birds have been brought to the center by good samaritans, locals and visitors. Grinter joked that locals who find birds on a regular basis are affectionately called ‘bird magnets.’ 

Most injuries to birds are caused by humans in one way or another, she said, but natural selection (starving birds) also make up a significant portion of her patients. While she tries to make the latter comfortable with heat and fluids, sometimes they don’t make it, she said. But, when there is still a “spark of life there” and they recover, she feels like it helps make up for the ones that didn’t make it due to humans. 

At the sanctuary, the self-guided tour takes visitors over the quarter-acre nook at Crane Point to visit some 40 permanent, resident birds. Oliver the osprey has been there for 18 years and Mr. Black-Bellied Plover for 19 years. The latter has even been a National Geographic model for famed photographer Joel Sartore.

The Marathon Wild Bird Center also helps rescue small mammals found orphaned or injured in its area. 

“We utilize the same volunteers to transport these occasional patients to Ark Angels in Tavernier. I’ve known and worked with Ark Angels founder Karen Dettmann for over 25 years,” said Grinter. 

The bird sanctuary has a team of four who have worked with Grinter in some capacity since the beginning and an additional volunteer squad of roughly 30 who transport birds, run errands, do landscaping and host educational programs for the center. Volunteering opportunities are always available, Grinter noted, and the center always can use more help.

On this milestone birthday, Grinter is asking the community for help to stay afloat. The annual operating budget has been about $50,000/year, she said. The current budget is almost double that because of a shortage of reliable volunteers, rising cost of food to feed the resident animals and general maintenance costs. 

“Staying operational for another 25 years is going to take innovation and funds,” Grinter said. “Our future is on the table.” 

Grinter noted that while there is always the possibility that a not-for-profit is going to close, her goal, after 25 years, is to make sure that doesn’t happen to the Marathon Wild Bird Center. 

“I love and enjoy what I do. I don’t know why I continue to do it other than just that,” Grinter said. “The need to help our wild birds will continue as long as their biggest threat, us, is present, too. (The Center) shall persevere.” More information on how to volunteer, visit or donate is at marathonwildbirdcenter.org.

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