Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pelican pelican pelican!!

Last Thursday, I went home sick -- I had been fighting a bug for most of two weeks and gave up. After napping a bit, I got a call from my brother asking for help from Pat and I to rescue a seagull with its feet bound together on the beach. Although the bird could fly and would thus be next to impossible to catch, we grabbed a bedsheet to use as a net and a pair of scissors with which to cut whatever bound the feet together, and got in the car. Who am I to turn down a bird in distress?

When we got to the beach, we could not locate the gull in question. We were helped by the presence of a nice man feeding a loaf of bread to the birds -- all of them came and milled around looking for a handout. We examined feet as well as we could and none of them seemed to be in any trouble. The bondage bird must have moved along the beach.

However, a juvenile brown pelican came up walking awkwardly and accepted bread. This is very weird behavior for a pelican, so we worried. We were soon joined by Gavin and Maria, a couple of sand-stained beach bums who had been following the pelican. "He's got a hook in his wing," Gavin said. "I can't stand to see him this way. I wish I had a net."

"How about a bed sheet?" I offered. He looked at me like I was crazy enough to offer strangers bed sheets on the beach every day. We explained why we had come.

Still in our office clothes, Pat, Robert and I helped Gavin catch the poor bird. Once they had dodged the lunges of his formidable beak and pinned him under a sheet, they held his beak shut and carefully removed the TWO hooks and long line and tackle binding the wing. We turned the bird loose, but he could still not fly.

So again we captured the pelican -- swarming with thousands of revolting mites -- and called Pacific Wildlife Care Center. Then we took the bird from vet to vet (those that work with the center) to get him checked out and x-rayed.

Pat and I are volunteers for the center, so when we offered to drive the bird to Morro Bay, they accepted. Pat drove, and I tried to keep my cool while covered in dozens or hundreds of mites and holding a precociously clever and entirely terrified pelican.

Pelicans are big awkward birds with preposterously swordlike beaks... but they weigh only about 5 pounds. There are multiple layers of air between layers of skin and fat that make them buoyant. So although they look like pterodactyls that could easily carry off, say, a middle-sized sheep, they feel like fuzzy pillows. They have beautiful, mobile eyes and expressive faces, and the elastic throat pouches are soft and resilient -- somewhere between "ear" and "scrotum" on a tactile scale. In a word, they are lovable.

And now I've been pooped on by six species of rescued wild birds. It's pretty much par for the course. (Good news: after pretreating and repeated washings, I did save my work pants.)

I am happy to report that there is no damage to the bone and although the bird is certainly hurt, his prognosis seems, knock on wood, to be good.

Here is a note from the center:

"Just checked in and your "pelican" is doing quite nicely so far - he's in the large fly-pen (you likely saw it on your way in last week) with a couple of others & is eating & recouping...
We'll be watching for him to strengthen that wing and start flying - I know the chart says to let you know when he'll be released down in Grover. We'll certainly attempt to honor that request....a lot depends on how busy the center is, who is available for transport etc."

So, happy birthday to me. My little pelican friend is doing well.

If you do not volunteer or donate to a wildlife shelter, I really recommend it -- if you have the temperament (and requisite lack of caution) to handle injured wild things. I am very fond of Pacific Wildlife Care.

P.S. Bird mites are species specific and only require a shower and shaking out one's clothes to be gone. However, they are pretty gross nonetheless and I felt like I had cooties for days.

* Pelican photo lifted from

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