By Jonathan Owens
Byron Wortham and his wife Kim turned to rescuing animals to help them cope with the death of their daughter Holly in February 2004.
In the years that have followed, that passion has manifested itself in Holly’s Nest, one of the state’s largest wildlife rescues located off U.S. 501 in the Deep River area of Lee County.
And soon you may see Holly’s Nest on television. Ballard Productions is currently working with the Worthams on a digital series and show for PBS named “Urban Wild,” hosted by Byron Wortham, that will explore the world of wildlife rescue.
While they are responsible for saving hundreds of animals each year, Byron said, the animals are really saving them.
“We needed to heal,” Byron Wortham said of his daughter’s death. “And this is healing. It’s a love that only children and animals can give.”
Holly’s Nest is an oasis for injured and neglected animals. It’s the largest whitetail fawn rescue in the state — 86 fawns were saved in 2020 alone.
The Worthams rescue everything from foxes and rabbits to beavers, pigs, goats and even horses without state or federal support. They rely solely on their own money and donations.
Byron Wortham estimates it takes around $600 to nurse one whitetail deer fawn to the point where it can be released, meaning he spent around $50,000 last year just on deer.
Holly’s Nest welcomes any donation — and even a corporate sponsor or two — to help in their mission.
“People have no idea what it costs to do all of this. It is ridiculous,” Byron said. “There is no federal or state help with what we do here. It’s totally out of our pocket and the generosity of others.”
The Worthams saved 300 songbirds like bluebirds and cardinals this year, many of which flew into windows. They care for exotic birds and rabbits and geese and a muted swan that was attacked by a snapping turtle and no longer has webbing on its feet. At their farm, potbellied pigs that owners surrendered when they were no longer cute play in a field with two miniature horses who were abandoned and left to die.
There’s even a one-eared opossum.
The latest additions to the rescue are the raptors. Holy’s Nest is now certified to care for owls, hawks, falcons and other birds of prey, and their releases back to the wild are drawing crowds and Facebook posts.
The highlight of the year was a huge bald eagle with a wingspan of more than seven feet rescued from the Seven Lakes area. The eagle, a female, dived into a lake to catch a fish, only to misjudge the depth of the water and knock itself out on the shallow bed. After checking it out for broken bones, Wortham nursed the eagle back to health and released it within 24 hours.
Holly’s Nest is currently caring for a hawk that is suffering from a gunshot wound. Byron is hoping to release it by New Year’s Day.
Through the television and Youtube shows, the Worthams want to educate more than they want to be celebrities. Though he had discussions with other networks, he sees the partnership with PBS as his best avenue to spread the word about the animals that have helped he and his wife heal.
“If you work for PBS you can’t lie,” Wortham said. “They want the truth, and that’s the only way I would do it.”