Second white pelican admitted to wildlife hospital

December 18, 2021

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

An American white pelican was among the 83 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week.

The American white pelican is the second to arrive at our facility this month. Coincidentally, both white pelicans were rescued by the same person near Cape Romano. The white pelican was standing and very reactive when admitted. The pelican had multiple lacerations on its body, abrasions on both wings, and had a constriction injury to its left foot. The left foot and webbing between the toes was a gray color and cold due to lack of circulation. The abrasions and constriction injury were the result of being entangled in monofilament line; the pelican also had a fishhook embedded and dangling from its pouch.

Hospital staff removed the line and immediately performed laser therapy on the leg to improve circulation to the foot; arnica salve was applied to the left foot and lower leg. Pain medications, vitamin supplements and an antibiotic were administered. Staff checked the pelican’s condition a short time later. Removal of the line causing the constriction allowed proper circulation to be restored; the leg and foot began to feel warm within 20 minutes of the line being removed.

A close-up photo shows swelling, discoloration and the demarcation line caused by monofilament line wrapped tightly around an American white pelican’s leg. The constriction caused loss of circulation to the lower leg and foot.
A close-up photo shows swelling, discoloration and the demarcation line caused by monofilament line wrapped tightly around an American white pelican’s leg. The constriction caused loss of circulation to the lower leg and foot.

A second laser treatment was performed late that same evening. The foot joint and the toes felt warm with only the tips of the toes still cool to the touch. The leg had changed from a gray color to a yellowish color and the foot was a reddish color. There was mild swelling of the foot and a clear indentation mark where the line had been tightly wrapped around the leg.

By the second day, the swelling of the leg and foot was slightly reduced; the pelican spent some time in the water therapy tub in the bird room and was interested in eating a small amount of fish. Treatments and supportive care continued. After five days in intensive care, staff moved the white pelican outside to the shorebird recovery pool where the bird immediately perched next to the other white pelican already recovering at the pool.

Because the white pelican received proper care, it was fortunate to not have lost its leg due to the severity of constriction injury. Be mindful, just because fishing line or other impediment has been removed from a bird’s beak or body, it doesn’t necessarily mean a bird is uninjured. In fact, an anhinga was admitted last week; she was emaciated, dehydrated and weak and had bits of string hanging from her beak. Staff feared a good Samaritan captured the anhinga, removed the majority of string that had been entangled in her beak and let her go, not realizing the bird had probably been entangled and unable to eat for days. Even though her beak was free of the string the anhinga had gone too long without food and was too weak hunt for fish.

The reality is most injuries require medical treatment and supportive care for an extended period of time before an animal fully recovers and returns to full strength. Please, if you see an animal in distress offer assistance and call the wildlife hospital for guidance. Staff can assess the situation and determine the appropriate course of action.

Previous white pelican admission

This American White Pelican was seen hanging out by a boat dock all alone. When approached, the pelican did not fly away indicating it was in need of help and was brought to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital in the first week of December.

During the physical exam, the bird was having a difficult time breathing and was trying to regurgitate. Our vet checked the pouch and noticed a large sheepshead carcass lodged deep in the bird’s esophagus. The fish was too big for the bird to swallow and the spines were preventing the bird from regurgitating the carcass.

Without intervention and safe removal of the fish the pelican wouldn’t have made it. Luckily, this bird is now recovering in our shorebird pool!

Recent Releases

Two raccoons, four gopher tortoises, two marsh rabbits, two laughing gulls, three royal terns, an eastern cottontail, two grey squirrels, two Florida red-bellied turtles and an eastern screech owl were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

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