Brown pelican down: Natural Resources performs rescue

Mark Hagan, Edwards' Natural Resources manager, attends to an injured, rare brown pelican outside building 3502, April 12, 2006. The pelican was transported to the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas, Calif., for rehabilitation.  (Photo by Airman 1st Class Julius Delos Reyes)

Mark Hagan, Edwards' Natural Resources manager, attends to an injured, rare brown pelican outside building 3502, April 12, 2006. The pelican was transported to the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas, Calif., for rehabilitation. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Julius Delos Reyes)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- This was no wild goose chase.

To the contrary, when Mark Hagan chased down and caught an injured brown pelican April 12, it struck at the heart of his duties as Edwards' Natural Resources manager -- protecting the base's natural resources.

Rare everywhere, the brown pelican -- federally listed as endangered -- is almost never seen anywhere but coastal areas. This is the first sighting on record of a brown pelican at Edwards.

"You just don't expect to see a brown pelican in the desert," Mr. Hagan said.

By contrast its cousin, the white pelican, is plentiful, and its habitat includes not only the coastal areas, but much of the interior of the United States.

The injured pelican was spotted by workers at the Base Information Transfer System parking lot. It was not trying to evade people the way wildlife most often do, and it had a length of fishing line and sinkers still attached, dangling from its beak.

The workers supposed the bird had a fish hook stuck somewhere down its throat or stomach. So they called Mr. Hagan, who caught the animal without too much effort, which Mr. Hagan said is a sign that all was not right with the bird.

The bird was taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center where doctors say the prognosis looks good for a full recovery and a return to the wild.

Mr. Hagan said his first task was to evaluate the nature and extent of the pelican's injuries.

"It didn't have a broken wing, and other than the fishing line, I couldn't see any obvious injuries," he said. "It let me get within a few feet, but if I made a move to pick it up, it would flap its wings a bit and move a few yards away."

A healthy bird would take flight long before anyone got close, he added.

According to the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas, Calif., where the pelican was taken, the bird is believed to have suffered from some illness, possibly red tide poisoning, in addition to its obvious problem -- the hook, line and sinkers.

"They said the pelican may have gotten red tide poisoning, which left it disoriented, and it flew inland instead of staying in its habitat area," Mr. Hagan said.

Red tide poisoning comes from algal bloom in the ocean. A few types of algae, often with red pigment, contain toxins which can poison animals that directly eat the algae and on up the food chain, resulting in a string of deaths for aquatic life. Most species of algae are harmless to people and animals.
Swallowing a fish hook with a length of attached line is a fairly common injury to pelicans. It can cause death, but that most often happens when the line is long and becomes entangled in tree limbs, ensnaring the bird until it starves," Mr. Hagan said.

Mr. Hagan caught the bird with a towel and the aid of a couple of workers who were on hand. Once the bird was captured, Mr. Hagan consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a recommendation on what course of action to take. They recommended the bird be taken to a rehabilitation center.

"They didn't feel the bird's chances of survival would be good unless it was taken to a rehabilitation center," Mr. Hagan said.

The bird rescue didn't come without drawbacks -- the pelican transferred a good number of pelican lice to Mr. Hagan.

"The people from the wildlife center asked if I was covered with pelican lice. They were chuckling when I said I was," Mr. Hagan said. "They also said the lice would wash right off, and any that didn't would be gone in a couple of days. They only survive on pelicans."

News Search