27 April 2013

Pelican Rescued at Carter Lake

An American White Pelican facing the potential for a miserable death was rescued the morning of April 27th at Carter lake.

The big white bird was first noticed at the northeast portion of the lake, on a bit of land. It seemed odd to be so close to another bird, and seemingly on top of it. Upon coming closer, it was obvious that it was dragging along a dead bird while it slowing swam away from my approach.

American White Pelican anchored to a dead pelican on the shore at Carter Lake.

With the bird moving along the water's top, obviously a boat was needed, so my birding came to an abrupt hiatus, and a beeline was made to the boat dock to the west. The only boat was being paddled ashore, with water skies being used as oars. The prognosis was not looking good, but there was no other obvious option. The gentleman had to leave, but the owner of the boat, Amy, agreed to see what was the matter. Her boat had a mechanical problem what was causing the engine to overheat.

After getting a view of the weighed down pelican, we tried the Nebraska Humane Society, but it was a worthless call for any assistance. Amy instead called someone she knew that lived along the lake, on the City of Carter Lake side. They had a paddle boat we could use. We drove over and got it, and also asked a former neighbor of her's, Greg, if he could assist. Which he could. We drove the boat to nearby parking spot, because it would have taken seemingly forever to peddle it the approximately one-half mile from its home dock to the rescue site.

After carrying the four-seat paddle boat to the lake's water, off we peddled. The water was calm but the boat was certainly slow going. It was hard to get the rudder to keep us going in the right direction. Our progress was hardly enough to make any progress on the pelican, which knew something was going on, and was swimming away. After working out an improved method of action, we made better progress. Amy sat forward to help maximize the extent of the paddles within the water, while my job was fast-action peddling.

The excitement came when about 15 feet distant, Amy, wrapped in a wet suit, jumped in and went swimming after the errant bird and pushed hard to reach it before it was too far distant. It was finally stopped by grabbing the dead bird, which held the other one back.

With hard paddling — based upon proven bicycle conditioning — the boat arrived within moments, and the trapped bird was held against the side of the boat. The wings were finally brought under control, but not after Amy got a hard hit to the face. This is probably the only time she will have ever been "slapped" by a pelican. It also took a bite at my hand, but that was nothing of any significance!

It was a single strand of fishing line which kept the birds together. Rather than just cutting it, the monfilament was grabbed, moved from around the leg and traced to where a large treble hook was embedded in the breast feathers of the bird. The hook came loose with a hefty pull, and the bird was free to go.

Off it swam. It then continued to the east shore of the lake and did what pelicans typically do. It did not fly, but probably could, as there was no apparent injury to the wings. There was also no blood on the hook, so the pelican may have also escaped receiving a wound.

After a high-five celebrating our success, we returned to shore, though our paddling tempo was certainly less, and a break was needed to allow some recovery from our effort.

Amy, the heroine of the day for a pelican. On the lower, left edge of the picture is the wing of the dead pelican, showing how the fishing line had wrapped around its wing.

With Greg's important help, we reloaded the boat and returned it to its owner. Then off we went on our merry way, pleased with the bird rescue. Thankfully, the necessary elements came together to effect a rescue.

Fishing debris which caused the problem.

People that fish and throw fishing line with attached hooks and a weight should not be allowed to fish at Carter Lake. No bird should have to go through the ordeal this pelican did, just because of a perceived indifference by someone to throw fishing tackle trash into the lake waters.

The dead pelican was left along the lake shore, to provide a meal for any local scavengers, perhaps even the red fox which has been seen lately.