Matthews Wildlife Rescue helps animals, educates public
By ANDREA SHAY
Often during the tourist season, Justin Matthews can be found sitting quietly on weekend nights outside Woody’s River Roo Pub and Grill in Ellenton with his owls. He’s there to help educate the public about wild animals and his wildlife rescue organization, and he also collects donations for the organization. The owls that accompany Matthews cannot be released back into the wild, and they clearly enjoy the attention they receive at Woody’s.
Matthews has been doing wildlife rescue and training his entire life. When he was 16 he obtained his falconry permit and was then the youngest falconer in Florida. He also had begun volunteering at an animal rehabilitation center at the age of 12. He now specializes in rehabilitating birds of prey, and Matthews Wildlife Rescue has worked closely with the Sarasota-based rehabilitation, research and educational organization Save Our Seabirds to rescue and rehabilitate wild birds.
Matthews’ owls remain relaxed yet alert during our interview, and Woody’s guests who make their way to the wildlife rescue’s table all remark on Cosmo’s beauty and easy-going nature. Cosmo is a great horned owl, and, according to Matthews, “He fell out of his nest when he was a little baby. I was working for Pelican Man Bird Sanctuary at the time. Normally you can just put them back in the nest.”
However, in Cosmo’s case, Matthews discovered that he had a broken wing. Cosmo’s veterinarian said that the bird would always be a weak flier and would not function well in the wild, so Matthews decided to keep him. It’s evident that Cosmo and Matthews have a very close bond. Matthews often takes the great horned owl on trips, and at home, he is free in the backyard or loose in the house. “He loves to sit on his perch,” said Matthews, “and, believe it or not, he loves to watch television.”
The screech owl that accompanies Matthews is named Little Woody. Like Cosmo, Little Woody fell from a nest and injured his wing, which has left him with ongoing wing problems. Matthews also retrieved Little Woody from a rescue call. “Each year we get about 20 baby screech owl calls, and we can actually put them back in the nest,” he said, clarifying that it’s actually a myth that mother birds won’t take care of their baby birds if humans have touched them. Matthews said that humans can even build another nest if the original nest has been destroyed, which Matthews Wildlife Rescue has done in the past.
Matthews’ organization also handles removing much of the area’s nuisance wildlife like venomous snakes for area residents. He runs the organization mainly on donations, and Matthews Wildlife Rescue also provides education and entertainment via wildlife presentations, birthday parties and visiting schools. One of Matthews’ hawks is also trained for weddings. If you would like to make a donation, book an educational event, or have nuisance wildlife issues, call Justin Matthews at 941-822-3272 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Woody’s River Roo is at 5717 18th St., E., Ellenton. From I-75, use Exit #224. Visit woodysriverroo.com.