A Miami Uber driver had precious cargo Tuesday after the call came in from the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station, a wildlife rehabilitation center on the 79th Street Causeway.
The passenger, a sick red-shoulder hawk, was carefully wrapped in a towel and tucked inside a cat carrier.
Gary Klemme found the hawk on his street in Miami Lakes. He contacted Pelican Harbor, where he had volunteered many years ago.
They called Uber and sent a driver to his home to get the bird. The driver was there in five minutes.
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The bird arrived at the nonprofit center about 15 minutes later.
The bird’s Uber journey began when Klemme, 63, a retired postal worker, rode his bike near his Miami Lakes condo after a nasty rainstorm on Tuesday morning. He spotted the wild bird on the sidewalk of the tree-lined block.
Klemme slammed on his brakes. “I’m a bird aficionado,” he explained. “It was wet and dark. She couldn’t hold her head up and had a white film on her eyes.”
Klemme had an idea what had happened to the majestic hawk: Poison.
Hurricane Irma debris attracted vermin so poison had been used to kill rats. Judging by the bird’s general listlessness — she had no upper body motor skills but was able to sink its talon into Klemme’s finger — he figured the bird must have consumed a poisoned rat.
With one hand on the bird, and the other on his cell phone, he snapped a picture, sent it off to his daughter, who had also volunteered at the center, and forwarded the image to Pelican Harbor.
The center has spent a little more than $4,000 on Uber transport for injured birds in 2017 from over 250 Uber rides — or about $16 per ride, according to Pelican Harbor executive director Christopher Boykin.
“Roughly 20 percent of our patients arrive to us via Uber,” Boykin said. “We use it a lot. It keeps our staffing at the clinic, caring for the animals. Cuts down on patient’s treatment time. The animal gets treated in half the time. We include Uber in our grants [requests.] We ask the foundation to help fund Uber transport.”
In 2015, Pelican Harbor used Uber for about 5 percent of its 2,000 patients. This year, the number has grown to 20 percent, Boykin said.
The strangest Uber drop off?
An 8-pound piglet on Christmas Day in 2014, Boykin said.
Pelican Harbor was founded in 1980 to care for injured brown pelicans and has since evolved into a center for seabird rehabilitation. But with an animal-loving staff of volunteers, Boykin said the center has become open to the, well, unusual.
“With all our staff and its bleeding hearts, we’ve become better known as an any-kind-of-injured-wildlife-center,” he said, with a chuckle. The emaciated piglet was delivered to the center’s door by an Uber driver.
“We ended up naming the pig Uber. We thought it was a pot-bellied pig that had been abandoned but what it was was a boar,” Boykin said.
When the animal grew to about 25 pounds, Pelican Harbor shipped the rehabilitated “Uber” off to a no-kill center.
“In the past, we’ve seen Uber used to help out in different ways during difficult circumstances. We’re grateful our service has helped these injured animals get assistance when they need it the most,” said Uber spokesman Javier Correoso.
As for the red-shoulder hawk, Douglas Giraldo, the center’s rescue and release coordinator, rang Klemme up Wednesday morning with some bad news: The bird died Tuesday night.
“More than likely it ate a rat that had been infected. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it,” Giraldo said. “Our goal is to get these guys back into the wild. That is where they belong. For that type of poisoning that’s somewhat of a long recovery. They would need to be able to have full strength and be able to fly right.”
Klemme was crestfallen.
“I love birds,” he said. “But it was extraordinary. They got an Uber here in five minutes as I’m holding a dying, beautiful bird. I knew the bird was struggling so it’s depressing. We thought we might be able to save her. But Pelican Harbor stepped up. They are awesome.”
Want to help?
Pelican Harbor Seabird Station, a native bird hospital at 1279 NE 79th St. Causeway, is funded solely on donations. They no longer accept non-native species. Information on the center and how to donate is at pelicanharbor.org.