TWO fish hooks embedded in him, an horrific injury to his front body, caught by two concerned humans and taken to the vet – it’s fair to say Mr Percival the pelican has had a rough trot.
But, thanks to the help of fishermen, trained bird rescuers and vets, this young pelican is now flying free after he was found badly injured at Mossy Point boat ramp last week.
Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR) member and Long Beach resident Carmel Cox was called to rescue the creature last Monday, and found he had fish hooks in his leg, and an “horrific” open chest wound.
“It was obvious that this big bird needed to be transported to a vet and sewn up and then placed in care for some time,” she said.
She called in some back-up from Tuross Head resident and former ASR member Peter West and, while waiting to rendezvous, fishermen fed Mr Percival to keep him in the area.
“He was relying on humans to feed him…he was too weak to do much else,” Ms Cox said.
When the time came, Mr West just had to put out his hand holding a fish, and gently grab the pelican’s beak while Ms Cox grabbed his body.
They then took him to Moruya Vet Clinic.
“After cleaning the wound and sewing it up, staff then began removing the fish hook from his right leg, and it was then that they discovered he had another hook in his back.”
Mr Percival was taken to Penny Beaver, another ASR member in Bermagui, who gave him his nickname. He was fed and closely monitored until his release on Wallaga Lake on Friday.
Nursed back to health
As a volunteer seabird carer for ASR, Penny has a specific seabird aviary ready to go.
“Without intervention from volunteers such as Peter, Mischi, Carmel, as well as the veterinary care from Janelle, he would have suffered critically from an infection from the wounds,” Penny said.
The volunteers know Mr Percival is a male because of the length of his beak, males (42-50cm) have longer beaks to females (30-42cm) and they know he is a juvenile less than 3-4 years of age because his plumage is dull brown rather than the distinct black and white colouration.
“Twice a day, I administered antibiotics, cleaned his wound daily, and applied a special cream to his webbed feet to ensure his feet did not dry out from spending so much time on land,” she said.
“He had a huge appetite because he was still growing up and needed up to 2kg of fish a day.
“He weighs 7kg with a mature adult male weighing up to 8kg and females up to 6 kg. They live for approximately 30 years in the wild.”
Penny, who is in the middle of a postgraduate research project in fisheries science, released him back to the wild at Wallaga Lake on Friday.
“He was dead sweet, did not want to leave finally did and then came back looking for food,” she said.
“I have painted two lovely crosses on each wing, they look like black ribbons so next time you go past Wallaga Lake look out of a pelican with ribbons on the end of his wings.”
Impact injury suspected
Ms Cox believes Mr Percival’s front injury was caused by an impact of some kind, and said it wasn’t uncommon for big birds to find themselves in trouble with boats because they’re slow to take-off.
“(This pelican) only had two fish hook injuries but it’s not uncommon for pelicans to have much, much more than that," Ms Cox said.
“Sometimes we can’t see them – I carry a metal detector around with me that we run over them.”
Birds can die from infection and, if there’s fishing line attached, it can wrap around a wing and slowly cut through it.
This ordeal has made Ms Cox realise that a lot more help is needed when rescuing pelicans.
“The capture, rescue, transportation and care of Mr Percival highlighted how hard it is when there are not enough ASR members on the South Coast to assist,” she said.
Ms Cox is only one of three ASR members between Kiama and Bermagui, and often they need two pairs of trained hands.
“With the warmer months approaching along with school holidays and an increase in boating activity, pelicans requiring rescuing will be on the increase,” she said.
“The entire pelican incident was a great team effort but we really need more people to get trained and involved.”
She said ASR was holding a Pelican Rescue workshop next month in Wollongong, which shows people how to catch and hold a pelican safely, how to remove fishhooks and apply first aid, and how to release them.
Anyone interested in participating in the course on October 14 can contact ASR South Coast founder Julie Dunn on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0419172709.