Brown Pelican’s Enormous Pouch Laceration Repaired

Veterinarians Dr. Rebecca Duerr and Dr. Avery Berkowitz operate on Brown Pelican with slashed pouch. Photo: International Bird Rescu

VIDEO UPDATE: After a month in care this Brown Pelican was released back to the wild!

Remember Pink the Pelican back several years ago and its horrible pouch laceration? Another Brown Pelican patient has suffered an even worse sliced pouch.

On August 30, 2020, a mature adult female Brown Pelican was found near the Ventura harbor in Southern California with an enormous pouch laceration – including both sides of her pouch all the way back onto her neck on the left side. The pelican’s back of her mouth was completely ripped open and the bird was doomed to die of starvation. Initially it was feared that her pouch had been completely cut off; luckily that was not the case! 

Figuring out what part goes where before temporary repairs of the Brown Pelican’s slashed pouch. Photo: Courtesy of Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network

Thanks to the kind efforts of rescuers,  the bird was brought to Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network’s wildlife center for emergency care, where she was stabilized with IV fluids and pain medications, and her pouch was temporarily tacked in place by their veterinarian, Dr. Avery Berkowitz. 

Temporary repairs allow gravity to help with blood drainage from the severed tissue and also gives the bird a chance to eat. Although very hungry, she had trouble positioning fish in her mouth and needed help swallowing. Arrangements were made to transfer the bird to International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center in San Pedro, CA for surgery.

Photo Brown Pelican pouch surgery at International Bird Rescue
View looking into the sutured pelican’s mouth. The massive injury also required Dr. Duerr to rebuild the left side back of the bird’s mouth. Photo: International Bird Rescue

Caring for California’s wildlife is a team effort. Bird Rescue’s staff veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca Duerr, DVM, MPVM, PhD invited Dr. Avery Berkowitz, Director of Animal Care and Wildlife Veterinarian at the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, to come help with the surgery, and thus an inter-organizational surgery day was arranged for September 4th. The veterinarians found small areas of pouch that were devitalized and required removal, but the severed pouch was largely healthy and able to be repaired without substantial loss of the pouch. Normally, Dr. Duerr likes to keep pelican anesthesias to under three hours for various reasons. In this case, the much-worse left side of the pouch was finished being sutured at the two hour mark while the bird was still doing very well under anesthesia, so the two vets opted to go for it and do the right side as well. All-in-all, the massive repair job clocked in at right around four hours total.

We are happy to report this beautiful bird has been doing very well healing, and her sutures were removed 12 days after the surgery. The sutured wound has healed very well, and is getting more healing before returning to the wild to plunge dive in the ocean for dinner. 

This bird is the 4th case of this type of extreme pouch injury our Los Angeles center has received in the past two years: two cases were from Ventura and two from Marina del Rey. Although we have received pelicans with large pouch lacerations for decades, these four cases have been different because the lacerations have continued farther back on the neck as a linear cut, which completely wrecks the back of the bird’s mouth – making the skin of the neck pull away too. Three of these four birds were able to be repaired and released, but the 4th bird unfortunately died of a fungal infection. 

The nature of the wounds makes us fear that someone with a sharp weapon is deliberately hurting these birds. Pouch injuries caused by fishing gear or other misadventures in a species that lives near human activities are both unfortunate and understandable; deliberate harming of our precious wildlife is neither.

Injuring Brown Pelicans is illegal. If you see people hurting pelicans or other wild animals, please report to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s CALTIP hotline at 1-888-334-CalTIP (888-334-2258). You can view the state’s anti-poaching website at where there are instructions for anonymous reporting by text as well. 

Following surgery, the Brown Pelican recuperates in the large flight aviary at the Los Angeles Wildlife Center. Photo: Angie Trumbo – International Bird Rescue