Brown Pelicans Get a Helping Hand

Recently, while surveying shorebirds in New Topsail Inlet, I found a juvenile Brown Pelican tangled in fishing line. One of the first things I noticed when I pulled the boat up to Lea Island was that the pelican did not fly away, which usually indicates there is a problem. As I walked up to the pelican, it tried to run from me, but there was so much fishing line wrapped around the bird and buried in the sand that the bird did not get very far.

I transported the pelican to SkyWatch Bird Rescue in Wilmington, where the director, Amelia Mason, and I cut the fishing line off and assessed the pelican’s wounds. She was underweight and had several cuts that need to heal before she can be released.

The Brown Pelican that was found in Castle Hayne. By SkyWatch Bird Rescue.

The second Brown Pelican I brought to SkyWatch was found in a parking lot in Castle Hayne the morning after we had subfreezing temperatures. Some kind men who worked in the adjacent brickyard noticed it and called Amelia. How the pelican wound up inland in Castle Hayne, no one knows. It could not fly, so I threw a towel over its head, scooped the pelican up, put it in a large cardboard box and headed to SkyWatch. I had to pull over twice because this pelican did not want to be in the box, which made for a very interesting ride. This pelican, also a juvenile female, had frostbite on her pouch, was underweight and possibly had Vibrio. Vibrio is a bacterial infection in the lungs, which affects the pelican’s breathing and is similar to pneumonia in humans.

When we put her in the pen, there were four other juvenile pelicans already there. SkyWatch Bird Rescue now has one adult and six juvenile Brown Pelicans:

  • 2 pelicans - frostbite
  • 3 pelicans - entangled in fishing line
  • 1 pelican - Vibrio
  • 1 pelican - pelvic injury

Shorebirds are frequently entangled in discarded fishing line, which means they will most likely suffer a slow and painful death. Even worse is when one bird entangled in fishing line entangles other birds in the fishing line. That means that multiple birds will suffer slow and painful deaths. If you see discarded fishing line anywhere, please pick it up and discard of it properly. Whether from fishing line, or some other injury or sickness, when birds are not well, people usually only notice them once they can’t fly. If a bird can’t fly, it’s best to catch it and take it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for assessment.

Although many Brown Pelicans migrate south for the winter to avoid the cold and lack of food, some of the juveniles just don’t get it and remain here in North Carolina. Freezing temperatures cause mortality through hypothermia, frostbite damage, and starvation due to reduced availability of fish in surface waters. SkyWatch Bird Rescue has their hands full with seven pelicans that each eat 2.5 lbs of fish per day, so if anyone is interested in helping these pelicans, they definitely need some fish.

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