Oct 25, 2021 - News
Bird Man laid to rest
Zoologist Ralph T. Heath with rescued pelican at the Suncoast Bird Sanctuary in Indian Shores in 1996.
Zoologist Ralph T. Heath with rescued pelican at the Suncoast Bird Sanctuary in Indian Shores in 1996. Photo: State Archives of Florida

Writer Pete Gallagher offered us a few kind words about Ralph Heath, who built the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores into the largest nonprofit wild bird hospital in the United States. Heath died earlier this month at 76.

They buried Ralph Heath on a sunny cool Friday afternoon at Sylvan Abbey, after an open casket viewing before enviro-friends and family. Heath was the first to breed permanently injured brown pelicans — removing them from endangered status across the world.

  • This man revived a dying lizard with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, always had a sick alligator in his tub. A brown recluse spider took him down.
  • "The bite was the stressor," said son Andrew, one of three children Ralph fathered with beer heiress Beatrice Busch. "A heart attack took Poppy out."

He cried when his birds died. Area restaurants saved leftovers for his gopher tortoises. His life was an endless stream of stopping to save animals crossing the highway and injured birds stumbling in to see him.

  • Staring where Ralph lay, his bushy eyebrows trimmed, longtime friend Bertie Higgins, proclaimed, "That’s not the Ralph I know."

He's right. Gone was the laughter and twinkle in his eyes, the guano on his shirt and the uncombed do. The preacher said it best, as Ralph's three grandchildren threw flowers atop his casket: "He lives on in all our memories."

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