An Amazing Pelican Rescue Story
Our story starts in the Town of Woy Woy Australia, at a local restaurant called the Fisherman’s Wharf with a lady named Wendy and a non-profit organization called Pelican Research & Rescue. In our story, I was able to get up-close and personal with Wendy to help rescue a pelican and hear her story!
We met her at the pelican feeding which happens everyday at the Fishermans Wharf at 3pm. Wendy spoke about her knowledge of pelicans and we were later able to ask her some questions and actually help her rescue a pelican! (Due to poor quality video and audio, I have transcribed below what she said and the questions we were able to ask her.) Watch the rescue video below!
Tell us about the pelicans (or pellies for short).
The Australian Pelican, aka Spectacle Pelican, are most recognized by the yellow around their eyes. There are eight species of pelicans around the world, ours is one of the larger ones. Pelicans are known to live up to 60 years in captivity, but we have only been studying them in Australia for about 45 years, so hopefully after another 10 years or so we will know if they can live that long here too! Pelicans today are literally unchanged from fossils that they have found over 40 million years ago. So they have been on the planet for a long time, (seeing as they have not evolved much from their fossil relatives this tells us that) they have been perfect for all that time! The boys are taller and weigh about 7 – 7.5kg, the girls only weigh about 5 – 5.5kg.”
Some of their beaks and eyes are much brighter in colour than the other pelicans (pictured below), why is that? (Compare the pelican’s beak in the middle to the pelican’s beak on the right)
“That means they are courting! The male and female colours are the same, they do a wonderful courting ritual in the air, on the land and in the water and when they find a potential partner (at about the age of 7 or 8 months of age), they whistle at each other. They only raise one of their young. The three white pelicans around the world only raise one, but some species raise up to three! Pelicans don’t leave home until they are about 6 months of age and are lighter in colour with shorter beaks and stubbier legs until they reach adult maturity. The beaks which have faded colours (little to no colour or only the purple line on their pouch) have likely been on eggs for about 3 weeks.”
You mentioned that you rescued a pelican in last nights cyclone storm, tell me about that experience!
“Last night I had to rescue a pelly in a storm, we did a little surfing together!” She laughs, “but eventually I finally did get him and he is now in my care. There was a fishing lure that had gone through his beak making it impossible for him to eat! He probably wouldn’t have made it another day without being rescued because he was so skinny! He should be better in about three days once I have put a little more weight on him.”
What do you call a baby pelican and why don’t we see baby pelicans out and about?
“There is no special name for a baby pelican!” “They grow so quickly, from their egg which is about 90mm by 60mm, they come out of the egg talking to their parents, looking at their parents. By week 4, they have full size pelican legs, week 5-6 they develop air under their skin like bubble wrap which helps them to be so light weight (sadly before this stage they don’t float) as well as they move into independence with their parents both being away from the nest at the same time, but they are still feeding the young ones constantly. At week 12 the baby pelicans have full wingspan, full body size and they are flying. The only thing that is still short at 12 weeks is their beak. The next 12 weeks they will still stay around home and their parents will still be feeding them, after this time they leave home with a full belly with the other young pelicans they have grown up around.”
Is there anything more that you would like to share with people who do not know you or know much about pelicans?
“I not only rescue, I also do research, I have been doing research in this area for seven and a half years. My area of research is human impact on pelicans, particularly fishing. I have finally linked up with a fellow researcher in Europe who recently retired; he is going to help me finalize and submit my research to help put pelican research at the forefront in research on Australian fishing impact on wildlife. One of the most concerning things is that a lot of the historical nesting locations for the pelicans are no longer active. This is my 20th year rescuing pelicans,” she laughs, “and there has been a lot of push back, a lot of threats from the fishing community wanting to hide the fact that there is a major impact on the wildlife, birds especially, in this region. Any kind donations help with my rescue costs; there is no help from government, no help from tourism or help from fishing licenses, any pelican I rescue, I have to pay for. I have been self funded for 18 years and I am proud to have some local support and support from tourists passing through!”
At the end of her chat, Andrew and I offered to help her rescue a pelican she had been trying to rescue during the feeding. We met Wendy about 30 minutes later a little further down the coast in a calmer and quieter part of the ocean with a small sandy area near a boat launch which has a small beach next to it. With a bucket full of fish, we were able to capture the female pelly with the lure in her belly just in time! When you watch the video you will be able to see how only seconds later the lure would have ended up stuck inside her instead of in the fish!
I would like to emphasize that no pelicans were harmed in the capture or release and that our efforts saved this female pelican’s life! If you are in the area, feel free to call the number in the video to help Wendy or to report an injured pelican!
Featured in Photo: Wendy from Pelican Research and Rescue in Woy Woy and Andrew Kegel (@r3wkegs)