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Field Notes: January 22, 2012-- Updated February 23, 2012

Pelican Brief

By Dr. Scott Ford

A unique patient graced the threshhold of the West Sound Wildlife Shelter in early December. A brown pelican was found at a fish hatchery on the Key Peninsula, apparently very lost and very hungry. Normally, if we see pelicans in Washington, it's during the summertime out at Grays Harbor or the southwestern coast. Pelicans are not able to withstand cold weather and this bird was no different. After a few days, it became apparent that the bird had suffered frostbite of its foot webs. In time, the tissue sloughed and then came a new concern-- several toes were also found to be dead. At that point, surgical amputation was required and I'm happy to say it was a success. We have hopes that it should still be releasable but we will need to transport it south for further care and evaluation. With any luck, our peli should be back in warm waters by springtime!

Yesterday, our pelican was transported to International Bird Rescue in Cordelia, CA. Door-to-door service was generously donated by two local pilots. Jay Villalva was the primary pilot, an active member of the Kitsap Aviation Squadron. He also assisted with transporting a bald eagle to us from San Juan Island last November. When they reached Medford, OR, icing conditions made a detour necessary until another pilot stepped forward to complete the journey. His plane could outclimb the icing and, fortunately, he happened to be headed the pelican's way! So, the pelican made the trip in a matter of hours and is safely in the care of a facility where outdoor housing and water access can be provided without concern of further frostbite. During the past 2 weeks, it became apparent that the pelican had also developed osteomyelitis in a portion of one toe. This is likely a complication for his original frostbite and some damaged tissue incompletely removed during his first surgery. He may require another surgery but has, so far, responded well to antibiotics. We'll let you know as more develops!

Do you want to know more? Do you want to DO more? Check out these organizations (that contributed to the bird's care) or
drop me a line:

West Sound Wildlife Shelter
All Creatures Animal Hospital
International Bird Rescue
Kitsap Aviation Squadron

Left foot pre-surgery.
Can you see the lines where live and dead tissue meet? Also, do you notice that there are webs between ALL 4 toes? In taxonomical terms, this is called "totipalmate." How is this different from a gull or duck?

Left foot after surgery.
The bird lost about 40% of it's webbing. Fortunately the more serious weight-bearing structures were saved.


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