Back on his Way South
We had the most interesting
patient at Lakeside in late January – a white pelican! It was
found in Lee’s Summit (the same town where Lou and I keep our
horses) – on the edge of a pond, covered in mud. It appeared as
though his right leg was injured. Lee’s Summit Animal control
fed him three fish before they got him out of the water.
he was safely at Lakeside, he was cleaned up, the parasites in
his feathers were treated, antibiotics were administered and he
was fed. The next day, his foot and leg were X-rayed and Dr
Exline recommended that we splint his leg and bandage his foot
for two weeks – and then see what happened. This bird was
really big – he weighed eleven pounds and ate over 2000 grams of
fish a day! After a few attempts, the staff learned that
wetting the fish made it go down easier. A few days after he
arrived, his chart said: “I’m Better. I can fly! I bite.” The
good news is that after treatment – which lasted about 4 weeks –
he was ready to go.
was released near where he was found. There were several white
pelicans on the lake in Lee’s Summit and they seemed to welcome
him back. A couple of days later, all the birds were gone.
I learned all
sorts of interesting things about white pelicans while we had
this guy at the center.
First of all,
they are HUGE! The bird stands about three feet high (he didn’t
have to raise his head too much to look me directly in the eye)
and its wingspan is between eight and nine feet. It’s mainly
white – the primaries are dark, but you don’t really notice that
until you take a really close look. His feet are orange –
webbed, of course – and his legs are short for his body. The
pouch stretches as much as six inches when it is full of fish.
They have an extra vertebra in their necks that prevent them
from raising their faces.
pelicans are very social and generally form large colonies to
raise their families. They like to live near lakes, salt bays,
marshes and beaches. They spend the summers in northern
California, western Nevada, Utah, South Dakota, Minnesota and
occasionally on the central coast in Texas. During the winters,
they hang around the Pacific coast from central California to
Guatemala and Nicaragua and from Florida and the Gulf States
south along the Gulf of Mexico to Yucatan. The ones we see in
Missouri are probably birds who spent the summer in Minnesota
and are heading for the Gulf coast. I wonder if they are
planning on spending spring break on Padre Island. I suspect
that the group our pelican met up with were late starting their
Adults rarely make any noise, but when they do it is usually a
low grunt. However, the young feel the need to squeal, and are
very noisy. Our bird was generally quiet – he got excited when
he had the chance to swim. Most of the time though, he looked
In spite of
their large size, pelicans sit high on the water because their
bones are full of air and the air sacs in their body are large.
Unlike other pelicans, the American White Pelican is does not
drop from great heights to catch its prey; it simply floats
along the water and scoops up fish with its enormous bill. The
bill can hold 3 gallons of water, and after the fish have been
caught the bill is pointed downward allowing the water to drain,
and then the bill is raised and the bird swallows.
Having the opportunity to see an uncommon bird
like this, up close and personal, is just another benefit of
being a Friends member.
(Story and photos by
Debby Barker, FOLNC