November 2010 Bird Photo of the Month

“BIG Boy” © Arlene Willnow
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Miami Zoo, Sony Cyber-Shot DSC, -3.0 ev

Although this pelican is in the zoo, this behavior is typically seen around fishing areas…a pelican waiting for a handout amongst a flock…yet most fish cleaning tables have a sign saying, “DO NOT feed the birds.” and offer a proper disposal method for the offal. Why not feed them when they obviously want it?  These are wild birds and feeding wild animals teaches them wrong lessons. Tossing leftover bony carcasses from the fish cutting table can lead to death for a pelican:  they can inadvertently get hooked (swallowed hooks do not dissolve) when in fishing areas because of associating anglers and handouts. Sharp ribs may permanently tear the pouch so it no longer functions, or bones get caught in the throat or stomach, either way causing slow death by starvation.

We should not begrudge the wild fish eaten by pelicans, which is their sole source of nourishment, they are specialists. Experienced anglers weight their line to reduce the likelihood of pelicans and other birds going after the bait and avoid casting in the midst of a frenzy of birds going after a school of fish.  They know the fish are not there or likely to bite and they will not needlessly increase the risk of catching a bird instead of a fish.

At zoos we can get close up and see animals like this pelican in colorful breeding plumage, but when we are in nature we need to remember they are wild and avoid disturbing their natural behavior.  Notice here pelicans have no nostrils unlike most other birds. To capture a hooked pelican from a pier or bridge, use a net to raise the bird, or walk pole and bird to where you can get to it, or slowly reel the bird up. If from land or boat, slowly reel in or take the boat to the bird, and use a net. NEVER CUT THE LINE. To hold the bird, grasp the beak, leaving it partially open for breathing, restrain the bird’s body by folding the wings against the body and wrapping an arm around it. Cover the bird’s head with a towel to calm it down. You will need assistance to hold it and remove the lure. The barb of the hooks must be cut off and then backed out to reduce tissue injury.

Juanita Baker,
Coordinator for the PIAS Photo of the Month

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