There’s a good chance, if you live on St. Croix that you’ve heard of Toni Lance, St. Croix’s “Bird Lady,” as she has been dubbed. A lifelong bird and animal lover, Toni turned her passion for these animals into her life’s work. Her passion is reflected in her both her artwork and her dedication to the St. Croix Avian Sanctuary. Toni is a licensed Bird Rehabilitator by the Department of Fish & Wildlife, and is both skilled at caring for these animals, and emotionally connected to them. The GoTo Team was able to take a tour of her property and experience these magnificent birds up close and personal. Watch our video to be amazed!
Toni sometimes welcomes visitors to her property for a tour, though she doesn’t have a regular schedule just yet. During our Saturday morning visit, Toni took us around her gorgeous and historic property on St. Croix’s South Shore. Her property overlooks the Caribbean Sea, and the lawn is dotted with cages where she keeps her injured birds of prey and other recovering birds. It’s the perfect spot for this non-profit bird sanctuary, with sea breezes and tropical trees. Toni has everything from egrets and peacocks, to chickens, a friendly pelican, and several red-tailed hawks, a Peregrine falcon, a kestrel and a merlin.
Toni showed us a baby cattle egret who squawked for food and perched atop her head. We also saw a large white crane who is fully rehabilitated but still hangs around the property for feedings. Of course, as soon as the food came out, the pelican came up, bobbing his head and flapping his wings to get the fish she was tossing out for snacks. Then, she showed us her amazing birds of prey. It’s not often you can get to see, and even touch, these predators up close. These birds are with her for the long haul, as they have injuries that will never allow them to fly again. Many of these birds have been shot with guns or completely lost half of wing, which renders them unable to fly, hunt or feed themselves.
Toni has taken these magnificent creatures in and provides them with food, shelter and companionship. Two red-tailed hawks live in the same cage, a male and a female and have partnered and started mating. They have laid two eggs, but unfortunately, they have not resulted in a baby chick as of yet. Toni will still keep trying to get them strong and healthy enough to nurse an egg full term, so maybe there will be new red-tails on the horizon! The birds of prey are tame enough to be petted and used for demonstrations in schools and for environmental groups that arrange tours with Toni. She also brings her blind blue pigeon, Miracle, to visit the kids. It’s really important to her to teach them about the proper treatment of animals – not just our pets, but the animals that we interact with in our natural environment of St. Croix.
Finally, Toni invited us inside to show us some of her paintings. Toni might be even more well known for her detailed and expressive watercolor and oil paintings of birds and wildlife. With a background in science and training in medical illustration, Toni brings a lifelike detail to her colorful portraits, and because she is so emotionally connected to these animals, perfectly captures their essence and spirit. She usually has an annual art show at Walsh Metal Works gallery in February, so keep an eye on our calendar for her next event! It’s a rare opportunity to experience her newest work.
It was a rare and inspiring opportunity for us to get to experience the work that she dedicates herself to every day. She is able to do this work through private donations and a supportive community, and the birds of St. Croix are lucky to have someone as skilled and caring as Toni looking after them. And, while we were finishing up our tour, someone stopped by Toni’s house with a baby pearly-eyed thrasher they had picked up on the road. Toni accepted the little baby bird and we helped feed it in her living room… a bird lady’s work is never done.
How you can help
You can make donations to the St. Croix Avian Sanctuary by calling (340) 773-1839. Share this page and our video with your friends! The video is linked right here: Toni Lance and the St. Croix Bird Sanctuary