It began with a phone call. The message was: “The pelicans are still here.” That’s when OWRC sprang into action. It looked like the events of last year were going to occur all over again. Temperatures were dropping and the tropical birds hadn’t migrated. Two birds were found dead. Calls were made, people volunteered, and the second annual pelican rescue project was underway.
Doc Wexler, OWRC Director, assessed the situation and decided that shelters needed to be constructed. The idea was to create a warm place, blocked from the wind, where the birds would huddle during the night. Then, in the morning, the sleepy pelicans could be caught. Two 4’ x 4’ plywood “traps” were built. In addition, Tom and Julia Courtney of Courtney’s Restaurant in Ridge, MD allowed OWRC to borrow their 130’ breezeway building. Doc and helpers insulated the structure with plywood, and lined it with donated blankets and comforters, in hopes that the pelicans would find a place to survive the bitter cold nights.
Temperatures below 45 degrees contribute to lethargy in the pelicans. Sustained lower temperatures create frostbite on feet, keel and pouches. This is a serious condition for the birds because it can destroy their ability to land on the water due to loss of webbing on their feet. Rich Johnson of Chesapeake Beach; Paul Thurman of Prince Frederick; Lisa Streckfuss of Herndon, VA; Dr. Howard Levine of Rockville; Cathy Foutzer of Chesapeake Beach; Jennifer Brady of Huntingtown, Cliff Bressler, and many others offered tremendous support in the rescue effort, often traveling great distances and withstanding freezing temperatures to help out.
Fish was scarce and the birds had to be fed. Bunkey’s Boat Rental and Tackle Shop and Rody Langley of Woodburns in
Solomons were responsible for donating
the first 200 pounds of fish. This was
critical because we had no other resources at the time. Pelicans were eating up to 50 pounds of fish a day. Then Stanley O’Bier, owner of Pride of Virginia in Callao, VA, stepped in and donated 1800 pounds of fish.
Pelican Bay Harbor, in Miami, Florida, sent Brian Fox, who has experience with pelican captures. He caught four birds that would otherwise have died. These birds are now recovering at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, Inc. in Delaware.
Birds are triaged at OWRC, where the most serious health conditions are given attention first. The pelicans are then examined by veterinarians. Drs. Kirk Forrest and Jennifer Cabral at St. Mary’s Animal Hospital, Dr. Adam Terry of All Kinds Veterinary Hospital, and Dr. Larry Richman, OWRC’s Senior Advisory Veterinarian are vital participants in saving the birds’ lives.
Erica Miller, DVM, and staff of Tri-State Bird Rescue provide follow-up rehabilitation prior to release. In 5 weeks, the birds will be released on Smith Island, MD, where pelican rookeries exist and avian nesting areas are protected. Tri-State’s staff is the bird and mammal oil response team for the east coast of the US. This team of experts travels the world to rescue wildlife from oil spills. They are an extremely important part of the pelican rescue effort.
We are indebted to Gina Acosta, a Washington Post editor, who graciously printed a Letter to the Editor from OWRC describing the pelican crisis. This resulted in many calls offering assistance to the project.
We also send a huge thank you to Wendy Rieger of Channel 4 News for airing the plight of the pelicans as the feature story on her series Going Green. Kudos to Wendy for braving the cold temperatures on the pier the day she visited the site! Much interest was generated by the special report.
To date, 12 of the 24 pelicans have been captured and are recovering. Tom and Julia Courtney have been instrumental in the pelican rescue effort by providing daily reports of the birds’ activities and by offering their restaurant as a meeting place for OWRC staff and volunteers. And we can’t forget the great food!
Our heartfelt thanks go out to all volunteers who donated their time, and to friends and strangers who contributed much-needed items, as well as monetary donations, for the pelicans. The current success of the project is possible only because of the hard work and caring of dedicated people who came together to save the lives of these beautiful creatures.
Photo captions: Left from top to bottom:
1. Young brown pelican that should have flown south for the winter
2. Birds face freezing temperatures and heavy winds
3. Doc Wexler feeds the starving pelicans twice a day
4. Volunteers work together to build pelican shelters. Left to right: Dr. Howard Levine, Lisa Streckfuss, Cliff Bressler, and Rich Johnson
Photo captions: Right from top to bottom:
5. John Rekstad works on door of pelican shelter
6. Jennifer Brady and Cathy Foutzer inside blanket-lined breezeway
7. Jennifer Cabral, DVM prepares to examine pelican while Rich Johnson assists
8. Tom and Julia Courtney of Courtney's Restaurant in Ridge, MD