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MacDill maintainer keeps mechanical and feathered birds flying

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer
Melvin and Debbie Baca at their bird sanctuary in Lithia Springs. Mr. Baca, a Gulfstream mechanic at MacDill, says he's hoping word will get around on base that he is ready and available to rescue birds here.

Melvin Baca has a long history of working to keep birds in the air, first as an Air Force flight engineer who worked even on Air Force One and now as a tech with Gulfstream Aerospace, keeping MacDill's C-37s flying for the 310th Airlift Squadron.

That's his day job. In his spare time, he works to keep birds of the feathered variety in good health.

Mr. Baca, along with his wife Debbie, realized a dream when they recently received licensing to operate a bird rescue and rehabilitation facility. Located in Lithia Springs, the pair specializes in birds of prey, such as hawks, falcons and owls but also rescue a variety of other birds including pigeons. Mr. Baca started spreading the word on base of what he and his wife are doing and he already has received rescue calls for birds injured at MacDill. Two were pigeons but one was for an injured falcon. Once the birds are nursed back to health, they are released into the wild. For those with permanent injuries that prevent them from surviving on their own, space will be made at the couple's sanctuary.

"It's something we do out of the kindness of our hearts and it's a very rewarding experience," said Mr. Baca.

He said the effort to open a sanctuary and bird rescue operation here began when Mrs. Baca, who previously worked in wildlife rescue for the state of Maryland, noticed there were few places in Florida to deal with injured birds of prey. The ones she did find usually were at capacity. That left no option but for injured birds to be destroyed.

"That was just unacceptable to me," she said. "I have a love for wildlife and birds in particular."

The Baca's are on call 24 hours a day. When a call came in late recently for an injured bird in Land O' Lakes, Mrs. Baca had no sooner hung up the phone when she looked up to see her husband dressed and ready to go.

"It's work and something you have to be dedicated to, but we both feel the same way," she said.

Saving and rehabilitation of sick and injured birds also is no way to get rich. If anything, said Mrs. Baca, it's a "way to go broke."

The Baca's efforts depend entirely on contributions and they are working to receive grants and funding for their work. They also accept private donations and even have an adopt-a-bird program, in which people can make a contribution to support a bird for a year. Contributors receive a picture of their bird. Anyone interested in donating or who finds an injured bird, can call Mrs. Baca at 690-4138.

Volunteer labor is another big help. A group of Boy Scouts has agreed to build cages for the birds, which are essential if the Baca's are going to be able to support all the injured birds they are likely to encounter. Currently there are three owls and an osprey in rehab but it is anticipated as they grow, the bird population will swell.




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