Brown pelican found on beach with signs of toxicosis

May 10, 2024

Three nestling cottontail rabbits and a brown pelican were among the one hundred and eleven animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include an anhinga, two common grackles, a belted kingfisher, a pileated woodpecker, a blackpoll warbler, four marsh rabbits and a Florida red-bellied turtle.

Dog digs up and harms rabbit nest

A dog unearthed the nest containing three eastern cottontail rabbit kits. Two of the nestlings died from their injuries, the dog owner stepped in and stopped the dog before the third baby was killed. Young rabbits are helpless and fragile; their bones are still forming and easily broken and their delicate skin is easily lacerated. Many dog attack injuries rabbits sustain prove fatal and most wild animals, especially babies, are no match for a dog or cat.

When the one surviving nestling rabbit arrived at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital it had increased respiratory effort, was favoring its right hind leg, and was showing signs of pain and extreme stress. Staff administered pain medications and placed the kit in a soft fleece snuggie pouch on oxygen in a warmed animal intensive care unit (AICU) to rest. A check on the nestling a short time later showed the rabbit was resting comfortably. Formula feedings were added to the rabbit’s treatment plan. Due to the rabbit’s young age, it required milk-replacement formula feedings multiple times throughout the day and night. The rabbit will receive care at the wildlife hospital until it is old enough to fend for itself.

Most dogs have a keen sense of smell and can easily sniff out a rabbit nest. Rabbits are breeding and giving birth right now. A rabbit may choose to nest in your yard anytime making it incredibly important to monitor your pets every day, especially when you let your dog out for the first time in the morning.

Sweet, beloved family pets can have a strong prey drive; it doesn’t make them bad pets, it just means pet owners have to be aware of the risk our pets pose to native wildlife. It is up to us to ensure our pets can’t harm wildlife living in our yards and neighborhoods.

Brown pelican found on beach with signs of toxicosis

The brown pelican was found on Marco Island on the beach. The pelican was dull, not able to stand, and had a partial blink – all signs of red tide toxicosis. Staff started the pelican on an antibiotic, a vitamin supplement, eye ointments, electrolytes and Chinese herbs. A special net hammock was used to keep pressure off the pelican’s breastbone as it was unable to stand. Towels provided stability and support to hold the pelican’s head in a normal position.

Within two days of treatment, the pelican was trying to stand for short moments of time. Staff provided physical therapy and water therapy to ensure the pelican’s leg muscles didn’t atrophy. Each day the pelican has shown small improvements in strength and behavior and staff continues to alter the treatment plan the pelican is receiving to meet the changes. On the fifth day at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital, the pelican showed an interest in eating one small finger mullet. Staff considered the increased appetite a major improvement and an indication the pelican would make a full recovery.

Red tide has devastating effects on our native shorebirds. If you frequent the beach, anticipate the chance that you may encounter a bird in distress. Carry a towel and keep a ventilated box or pet crate in your car. So many beachgoers call us because they see a bird suffering on the beach that obviously needs help, but with no rescue equipment available, they are limited in what they can do.

The von Arx Wildlife Hospital does not have an official rescue service so we rely heavily on help from the public. Rescuing a debilitated bird is not as difficult as most people think. Be safe, always wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from any bird with a long neck and sharp beak. Use a towel to lightly cover the bird’s head and body. If the bird’s head is covered, it can’t see what is going on and the darkness will help calm the bird. Gently pick up the bird and place it in the box. Remember, the bird is injured or debilitated (weak) giving you the “upper hand” during a rescue. Having a towel and a cardboard box in your car ensures you are prepared and able to save a life.

If you have questions about how to safely rescue and contain an animal, please call the wildlife hospital. We can offer tips that will keep you safe while offering life-saving assistance to an animal in need.

Recent Releases

A great blue heron, three mourning doves, six eastern cottontails, a gopher tortoise, a painted bunting, a peninsula cooter, a northern mockingbird, a blue jay, a marsh rabbit, an eastern screech owl, three Virginia opossums and five grey squirrels were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please check the Conservancy website at to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see