Nancy Murrah and Raptor Center of Tampa Bay board member Anne Marie Jordan show off some rescued birds at Raptor Fest in St. Petersburg.

By Libby Baldwin

Nancy Murrah has a constant stream of guests filtering through her Brandon home—about 25 at any given time, and more than 1,100 last year.

Some are small animals like squirrels and raccoons, but mostly they are ospreys, owls, bald eagles and other birds of prey—all rescued by Nancy and her team of other volunteers, all in need of care and rehabilitation.

“We do our own lab work in-house—on my dining room table,” said Murrah, 61, who got involved with bird rescue 10 years ago. “We really need a localized rescue that volunteers from all over the state can come for help.”

Murrah is president of the Raptor Center of Tampa Bay and vice president of both Tampa Bay Raptor Rescue and the Tampa Audubon Society. Each is a nonprofit, so Murrah never gets paid.

Tampa lacks a fully-functioning rehabilitation center of its own. Bird rehabbers, as Murrah calls them, currently rescue birds all over the state and must transport them to various centers in Sarasota, Apopka and even Melbourne.

Murrah said most of her volunteers average between 25,000-35,000 miles a year, transporting sick or injured birds and releasing them back into the wild.

On Saturday, March 23 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Murrah and the Raptor Center of Tampa Bay will host the First Annual Wonders of Wildlife Festival at E.G. Simmons Park in Ruskin to raise money to begin the process of building a Tampa facility.

“The event will be for the whole family and centered around conservation and education,” said Murrah. “I want people to learn more about the wildlife in this area and appreciate it.”

Murrah is hoping for a donation from a local corporation of a piece of land, ideally between five to eight acres, to build the state-of-the-art facility, which will be open to the public. The most immediate need is for flight cages, large enclosures that allow birds the freedom to move and fly while they are recovering.

A 60 ft. flight cage costs around $60,000, and Murrah estimates the new facility will need nearly 15 of them, along with X-ray and lab capabilities. She is hoping to raise $10,000 at the festival and welcome 1,500 people.

Admission is $12 for adults and children under ages 18 get in free when accompanied by an adult. There will be presentations with live animals, face-painting, food, live music and educational and shopping booths.

Murrah and her volunteers operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, but will perform a rescue operation anytime, including overnight.

“I never take vacations, but that’s okay,” Murrah said. “What we do is about saving animals; it’s not about us.”

For more information about the Wonders of Wildlife Festival and birds of prey rescue efforts, call Murrah at 205-1851, go to www.raptorcenteroftampa.org or visit the Raptor Center of Tampa Bay’s Facebook page.