Wayward Pelican Returns!

Ralph, the wayward North Carolina Brown Pelican, arrived March 9, 2011 by donated use of a Chevy van, at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, Newport, NC from Nova Scotia, Canada. The theory, and most likely fact, is this young plunge diver was blown off course last year during Hurricane Earl and found himself lost and alone in a maritime province of Canada. It all started, for our shelter, about two months ago when we received a call from Hope Swinimer, animal rescuer who works at ‘Hope for Wildlife’ located in Seaforth, Nova Scotia. She asked if she could return a pelican to North Carolina. It was an unusual request but well received. The story started for Ralph much earlier than that. In September 2010, a brown pelican was spotted sitting on the roof of a strip club called Ralph’s Place in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Knowing pelicans are not found that far north usually, a call was made to Hope by a concerned observer. Hope didn’t know if it would, in fact, be a pelican since she had only seen one other pelican in the flesh in that area and that was many years ago. In addition, misidentifications are known to happen when animals are unfamiliar, but like all wildlife rehabilitators, she packed up rescue equipment large enough to accommodate a pelican. The bird took flight when Swinimer approached and led her on a chase that ended when he knocked himself out by flying into a plate glass window. She scooped him up, and pelican rehabilitation began. He was loopy, underweight and definitely lost. Ralph became his name based upon his landing spot, and Hope became his vigilant caretaker, providing vitamin-spiked herring meals and monitoring his behaviors and weight gain. He waddled around the Canadian rescue barn, flapping his wings and appearing quite content. When he bounced back from emaciation and regained good health, Hope began the process of getting him repatriated to the U.S. Southeast but ran into bureaucratic red tape which extended his stay through the fall and winter. Once the paperwork came through, it was time for a three day road trip for volunteer driver Garry Sowerby, Hope and Ralph. The Canadian rescue and over-the road team and their celebrity passenger, Ralph, were welcomed with arms-wide- open, southern hospitality by the North Carolina OWLS rescue crew and the media.

It was a grand ‘coming-together’ for wildlife rehabilitators of the ‘Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter,’ USA and ‘Hope for Wildlife’ from Canada. Hope and Ralph had bonded over the last six months, which was quite obvious when Ralph, who surprisingly turned out to be a girl, was introduced to her new enclosure. While OWLS volunteer David sprayed water into her food bowl, she ran to Hope and leaned against her leg. “I am going to miss him,” Swinimer said. “He is beautiful, in my eyes. He almost looks prehistoric in some ways.” Check out Ralph(ia)’s video debut at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/video/ralph-the-pelicans-new-home/article1937014/

Ralph(ia), is settling in well at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, but it will take time to relearn pelican behaviors since she is young and has not been in another pelican’s presence for the past six months. She is currently being hand-fed fish and encouraged by the presence of fish in her food bowl to begin eating on her own. Since she bonded with a human during her stay in Nova Scotia, human contact is being limited at this point to enable a timely reintroduction to other pelicans which will promote healthy identification behaviors with her own species. Six other pelicans are currently enjoying a rehab stay at the shelter and Ralph(ia) will soon join them, learn pelican social order, get physically fit and eventually return to her old sky and turf of North Carolina.

Linda Bergman-Althouse,
Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter Volunteer
President, Wildlife Rehabilitators
of North Carolina
Author of “Save Them All”