Pellies on the Mend

As a symbol of the SoCal coastline, the California brown pelican is a graceful flyer, soaring over the waves, catching an updraft and swooping down for a fish snack.

But when young pelicans can’t get enough to eat – maybe their fishing skills are up to snuff – they can end up at the International Bird Rescue in San Pedro where they be cared for, fattened up and later released to test their wings again as a ‘Junior Pellie.’

Summer in SoCal is when staff and volunteers receive the greatest number of young pelicans for care – most of these are in their “hatch year” and are emaciated; others arrive with hooks in their pouches and fishing line wrapped around their bodies from encounters with fishermen.

This summer has been no exception – according to Kelly Berry, Rehab Technician for IBR, a little more than 150 pelicans have gone through their doors. That’s a typical year, she says as she surveys the outside aviary where most of the pelicans are recovering from their earlier trauma.

“Welcome to Bird World” she says as she points out the pelicans that are sharing a large enclosure with close relatives.

Pellies on the mend -- photo by Martha Benedict
Pellies on the mend — photo by Martha Benedict

The rehabbed pelicans practice their flying, flapping great wings and often landing clumsily on perches.

Watch out...Photo by Martha Benedict
Watch out…Photo by Martha Benedict

It’s a hot day and they often fan their pouches to cool them off.  For the most part, they get along with each other; there’s not a lot of squawking or sparring for space.

Brown-headed by Martha Benedict
Brown-headed youngins…photo by Martha Benedict

“You can tell these are the young pelicans because they have brown heads,” says Berry; pellies with white heads and older (and wiser?) adults. After hatching on the Channel Islands, they make their way to our shorelines during the summer months.

The pelicans at this hospital have been rescued up and down the coast from Malibu to Seal Beach and brought here via the public or animal control officers.  Each will receive individualized attention, medication and, once they are fully mended, will be released back to their ocean home.  “Every bird that comes in here, goes back into the wild,” reassures Berry.

Testing the waters...Photo by Martha Benedict


The pellies routinely get evaluated on their progress and today this pelican will be examined.

Into the net...Photo by Martha Benedict
Into the net…Photo by Martha Benedict

After being capturedwith a net, the pellie is covered with a blanket and brought inside.

This pellie is about 9 pounds…up from its previous low weight. A good sign.

Hello...Photo by Martha Benedict
Hello…Photo by Martha Benedict

Feet are checked for tears or injuries.

No pedicure needed...Photo by Martha Benedict
No pedicure needed…Photo by Martha Benedict

Joints are examined for anything suspicious.

Photo by Martha Benedict
Photo by Martha Benedict

Any wounds? No, all looks good.

Hold still....Photo by Martha Benedict
Hold still….Photo by Martha Benedict

Throat pouches are checked over for sturdiness. It may seem thin and flimsy, but a pelican’s pouch is strong and can hold up to three gallons.

Tough stuff...Photo by Martha Benedict
Tough stuff…Photo by Martha Benedict

A row of white feathers shows that this is a juvenile.

Photo by Martha Benedict
Photo by Martha Benedict

Now, a draw of blood and a dose of vitamins and this pelican is done with all the manhandling for the day.

“We gear them up to say goodbye,” says Berry who adds that the IBR has a program of releasing pelicans with blue bands as a way of tracking them.

Photographers who spy and snap a photo of a blue banded pelican can enter in the Second Annual Banded Pelican Contest sponsored by the IBR. The contest closes Oct. 14, 2013. Winners – those who report the most birds – will receive prizes like a spotting scope or binoculars. They will also receive a private tour of the hospital and the exclusive opportunity to release a rehabbed pelican back into the wild.  (Learn more about rules here and hints on where best to observe pelicans.)

Photographers can also submit their best blue-banded pelican shot in a photo contest; the top three pix will also receive nifty prizes and kudos.

Last year, 119 blue-banded pelican numbers were reported which Berry says is impressive number. Since 2009, the IBR has released more than 1,100 from their wildlife hospitals in San Pedro and Northern California. Pelicans with blue bands have been seen from Mexico to Washington State which just goes to show that these rehabbed birds know how to travel.

 — Brenda Rees, editor

Be careful...Photo by Martha Benedict
Be careful…Photo by Martha Benedict