Plunge Divers

The goal is to heal the wounds, fuse the fractures or arrest the respiratory infections and get them outside to the pool enclosure as soon as possible when pelican patients are admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. Pelicans are the messiest and stinkiest birds on the planet. There is no nice way to say it. How can they not be sloppy and smelly? Their diet is fish, and they crap constantly. It’s always the same drill in ICU; diagnose, treat, clean, feed, clean, clean some more and repeat. But despite all that, there is no way not to love them. They have the sweetest dispositions of all seabirds and want to follow you around like a puppy. When a pelican sidles up to me while I’m cleaning his dorm corner and lays his head against my leg as if to say, “thanks for helping me,” I just melt.

Now, I can’t say we’ve never had a pelican at the shelter with a nasty disposition, because we have. Recently, actually. I called him ‘Killer!’ Even though he was only a juvenile, his attitude was well set to be very protective of his fellow pelicans and intolerant of humans he perceived could do him or his own harm. As a retired Marine, I understand that posture all too well. Cautious as he was, he never turned down a fish tossed into his bowl though. In ICU we cordon off corners of the room for these large seabirds, affording them room to walk, if they can, spread their five to six feet wing spans, if they can, and toss their heads back to direct meals of nice big fish, head first, down their throats. Most, cooperatively, stay behind the shower curtains and wait for one of the rehabilitators to tend to them as needed, which is usually meal time or ‘change-the-papers, then-mop’ time. Young Killer was another story. Beyond the pelican ward to the prep kitchen we could hear his repetitive loud clicks as he slapped his foot long scissor bill together announcing his displeasure with being held in captivity. There came a time when I walked through the door into ICU and he was waiting in the middle of the room for a face off after slashing through his shower curtains like some scene from an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. It became important to look through the small window in the door to find out exactly where he was before entering. He could be hiding behind the door, and that bill around a leg could give quite the pinch. It didn’t matter how bad he felt, he didn’t want to be there and wanted us to know that there wasn’t a wildlife shelter big enough to hold him! His cockiness impressed me and always made me laugh. I’d never met a pelican like him.

With his respiratory infection cured, Killer’s three and a half weeks stay at the shelter ended yesterday. He and two other pelican cohorts, another young male and a female, were released at the waterfront in Swansboro, across from Pelican Island, during a slight drizzle. Three kennel cabs were aligned and all the woven wire doors opened toward the sea. Killer was the first to trot out of his carry cab, then the other two quickly followed his lead. He didn’t stay on the seawall long, just a quick glance our way. Not really a ‘thank you,’ probably just a ‘see!’


. . . . . Be well, Killer, live long.


Merry Christmas Everyone!

Linda Bergman-Althouse