Pelican Patrol

Brown pelican.

The Ark Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation has received a large number of injured pelicans in the last couple weeks. Many of those pelicans came from the GTM Reserve where I volunteer regularly. The GTM has a dam with a lake on one side and the Guana River on the other. It is a favorite local fishing spot and this is where the heart of the problem appears to be. The GTM scheduled some volunteers for the next few weeks to patrol the area and help with rescues. When a fisherman hooks a bird, it is important that they reel the line in and remove the fishing gear from the bird instead of cutting the line. Cutting the line can result in the death of the bird. By patrolling, we hope to help fisherman do the right thing and capture any birds we find with fishing gear. If the bird can fly, that’s a tough problem.

I volunteered this morning and was aware that there was a juvenile and adult pelican spotted with fishing gear and the folks volunteering yesterday were not able to successfully capture the two birds. They tried hard. I arrived around 8 and for the first two hours there was not much activity and I could not find the birds with the gear. I spotted a juvenile hanging out at the time that made me suspicious because it did not look well, but I could not see any gear. I went around an gathered fishing line from the area and this is what I found.

Fishing line, etc. left behind by fishermen.

After gathering the fishing line, I went back to the juvenile pelican that made me suspicious and it stood up. It had fishing gear hanging from its wing. I forgot my net and even if I had it, it was doubtful I could catch the bird by myself. I grabbed a blanket from the car and tried to sneak up on the bird, but it was wary and flew away. It was likely the same bird that they attempted to capture several times yesterday and was very wary of humans approaching.

A juvenile pelican with 5 hooks in it, three in the body and two in the mouth.

I called Regis to bring the net. We live 45 minutes from the GTM, so I’m sure he was thrilled to interrupt his plans. In the meantime, I called someone at the Ark and asked the best way to catch the pelican and she said to lure it with fish while someone snuck up on it. By now, I had become friends with the fishermen who arrived long before me and asked if they would keep an eye on the bird and I ran to a local bait shop and bought fish and a net. This means Regis would not have needed to bring a net, but he was on his way and it is what it is.

When I got back, a new fisherman showed up to set up right in front of our juvenile pelican we wanted to capture. I told him what we were about to do and his suggested using a cast net to get the pelican. He said he could do it but needed a cast net and noticed that one of the fisherman I had been with all morning had one. That fisherman with the cast net said he could do it and BOOM he got the pelican. Just like that. Amazing. It took 3 fisherman and me to hold the bird and extract 3 hooks from the body and 2 from the beak. After putting the bird through this trauma, we tried to offer it a fish, but it was not interested. It flew away as fast as it could. I do not blame it.

I called my friend at friend at the Ark to let her know the good news and while I was on the phone, one of my fisherman friends snagged a cormorant. I hung up and Regis arrived just in time for the cormorant rescue. The fisherman reeled the bird to the water’s edge and I used the net to get it and then grab it. It had so much fishing gear on it that I think it could have opened a sporting goods store. A couple fisherman helped extract the many hooks and then I had trouble releasing it because it was entangled in the net. Regis helped me extract the bird. Regis and one of the fisherman were at the receiving end of the lack of gratitude by the bird as it lashed out with its bill.

The fishing gear we removed from a cormorant.

The next volunteer this afternoon found an adult pelican with gear and managed to save it and saw a fisherman catch a pelican. He was going to cut the line and she convinced him not to do it and the bird was successfully extracted from the gear. Whew! This is a full time job.

I saw this tern try to get bait while the fisherman kept yelling no. The bird did not listen but escaped getting caught.

A tern trying to get to the bait from a fishing line. Fortunately, it did not get caught.

I strongly feel that getting the birds untangled from fishing line early prevents them from winding up at the Ark Rescue as a patient or dead.

A royal tern.

One Comment on “Pelican Patrol

  1. WOW!…..be careful Linda ….they will be making a documentary about you soon! You are SO brave!

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