Oct 5, 2021 - Business
Notorious "Bird Man of Tampa Bay" dies
Ralph T. Heath with rescued pelican at Suncoast Bird Sanctuary in 1970.
Ralph T. Heath with rescued pelican at Suncoast Bird Sanctuary in 1970. Photo courtesy of Florida Archives

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary founder Ralph Heath Jr. died over the weekend, per St. Pete Catalyst. He was 76.

Why it matters: Heath was known for ruffling feathers in both good and bad ways. His wild life story is well worth the read.

Details: Heath started his nonprofit wild bird rehab center in 1971 in Indian Shores. After Suncoast became the first sanctuary to hatch an endangered brown pelican in captivity, they went on to hatch, fledge and release almost 200 pelicans, helping the bird eventually get off the endangered species list.

  • But in 2016, his family ousted him from the nonprofit after he was accused of misusing and embezzling funds.
  • That same year, police found dozens of birds and turtles in troubling conditions at Heath's Largo warehouse.

Point of intrigue: He was married to beer heiress Beatrice Busch, with whom he had the sons who currently run what is now called the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary.

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