The County Council will cut the ribbon at the Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary Nov. 7.

Sick, injured and orphaned seabirds will soon feel the joy of wind beneath their wings at the Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary in Ponce Inlet. And nobody’s more excited than Pat the Pelican.

The Volusia County Council will celebrate the opening of a 1,400-square-foot, 20-foot-tall flight cage during a ribbon cutting ceremony at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 7.

After the talking and cutting are done, Pat will be the first bird to flex its wings and take flight. Pat is a permanent resident of the sanctuary, having landed there in 2018 after sustaining an injury that left him blind in one eye. The pleasant pelican, a staff favorite, has been hopping around in one of the sanctuary’s exhibits and is looking forward to testing the flight cage for rehabilitation patients.

The $165,000 fenced-in structure replaces a flight cage that had sustained wind damage. With two man-made ponds, multiple perches, an upgraded filtration system, and a view of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, the flight cage will hold 30 to 40 birds, depending on the species. For example, Pat will take up more room than, say, a tiny tern.

The flight cage was specially designed to encourage flight while preventing damage to feathers and injury to the birds. Pelicans, gulls, terns and other water birds will be able to complete the final stage of rehabilitation with unlimited, but monitored, activity.

The sanctuary’s bird rehabilitation manager, Tracy Dawson, said the enclosure is a vital step in her patients’ rehabilitation.

“After spending several weeks or months in our bird hospital, our birds become weak,” she said. “We’ll release them into the flight cage, where they can build their flight muscles in a safe environment.”

Their rehabilitation will include a “fish school,” in which live fish are released into the ponds so the birds can practice diving and grabbing. Staff will keep a watchful eye on them to see if they can spot any weaknesses. This will help them evaluate the birds for release.

Alas, Pat will be spending his golden years at the sanctuary, but his other feathered friends will use the flight cage as a launch pad to freedom.

The Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary is part of the Marine Science Center complex at 100 Lighthouse Drive, Ponce Inlet. Since opening in 2004, the bird sanctuary has treated more than 18,000 birds, many of which were released back into the wild.

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