Heartfelt Reflections: Saving and Setting a Pelican Free

Volunteer Mary Lawrence Test released Brown Pelican 2E7 on January 17, 2024, two months after she had rescued her in Redondo Beach with fishing hook wounds. Photos: Ariana Gastelum – International Bird Rescue

Mary Lawrence Test, a Bird Rescue volunteer since 2011, found herself in an unexpected yet familiar role when she discovered a distressed Brown Pelican on the beach with multiple fish hooks on her body on November 10, 2023. Off-duty, but never off-duty in her commitment to the well-being of wildlife, Mary sprang into action to get this bird help, and she successfully transported the pelican to Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center.

After two months in care, the recovered Brown Pelican was released back into the wild on January 17, wearing blue band 2E7.

During the two months the pelican was in care, Mary was able to check on the bird periodically while volunteering at the clinic. On January 17, she had the extraordinary opportunity to set the recovered bird, now wearing blue band 2E7, free to the wild.

This is not the first pelican Mary has rescued. During the 2022 California Brown Pelican Crisis, she found another pelican in Redondo Beach with a pouch laceration caused by fishing gear. After surgery and 24 days in rehab, this bird was released to the wild. His blue band Z62 has since been re-sighted at Mendocino Headlands, CA. More information about this case can be found in Dr. Rebecca Duerr’s blog post.

Learn more about this recent heroic rescue, in Mary’s words:

Surprising Rescue Mission Over Lunch

I was lunching outdoors on the Redondo Beach Pier with an old friend when I noticed a pelican washing in towards the big rocks that line the beach.

“Is that bird all right?” my friend asked.

“Oh no,” my stomach sank. “She is not all right.” She was beaching herself.

I jumped up and ran to the top of the rocks where I quickly ascertained I could not climb down to the beach, much less reascend the rocks with her in my arms. I returned to our table and called Redondo Beach Animal Control, reporting a beached and injured pelican.

Soon after, I saw a man approaching the rocky area. He easily scaled down the rocks and stood next to the bird. I ran back and shouted at him to pick the bird up and lift her up to me. He had to get his feet wet as our interest in her was about to send her back into the water. As he lifted the pelican up over his head to me, I wrapped her in my new jacket and headed back to the restaurant, where my friend had been left to pay the lunch bill.

I later learned the man’s name was Jef Peneak, and he had previously worked with wildlife in Alaska. With Jef’s help, we wrapped her in a sheet I always carry in my car, and the restaurant provided us with a large cardboard box. With my hand on her head in the passenger seat, I headed down to Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center.

A Heartwarming Reunion for Release Day

Brown Pelican 2E7 practiced flight in the large aviary, days before she was released on January 17.

Although I never cared for her directly at Bird Rescue, I enjoyed watching her progress from an outside small pelican box to larger housing in a waterfowl pen, to first the small and then the large pelican aviary. After two months in care, her wounds were healed, her antibiotic treatment was finished, and she was cleared for release.

On January 17, she was released at White Point Park in San Pedro. Immediately after I opened the carrier, she walked out and looked around. After a few minutes, she flew straight out to sea, eventually turned north (headed back to Redondo?), and then disappeared in the fog.

Thanks to the blue band that all of Bird Rescue’s Brown Pelicans are fitted with on release, I know that “my” first pelican Z62 has been sighted at least once in northern California, and I hope that this one, too, will soon be re-sighted.

From Hooked to Healing: A Word From Veterinarian Dr. Duerr

I first met this bird a few days after Mary rescued it. Although the bird had several wounds from fishing gear, the most concerning injury was where a fish hook had been lodged in the back of the bird’s leg. Although it was a small hook, perhaps one used to catch bait fish, it had literally punctured through the bird’s hock tendon – this big tendon runs down the back of the leg and is responsible for straightening the hock joint, enabling the bird to stand. It is very comparable to a person’s Achilles tendon. Imagine what would happen if you had a dirty fish hook skewer your Achilles tendon – nothing good, right?

Despite medications and our best efforts to clean and disinfect the wounds, the tendon and surrounding area became very infected, and the infection was quite persistent. We treated that injury for weeks, and the bird needed a drain to help remove all the pus. With some diagnostic lab work, we found that there was both fungus and bacteria wreaking havoc in there and specific medications were needed to treat the infection. Ultimately, the treatment was a success and this bird was able to get ready to fly free again! It was only just and fitting that Mary would have the honor of releasing the bird. Thank you so much, Mary!

Did this story inspire you to want to get involved? We are currently seeking volunteers for a variety of opportunities that will make a difference for waterbirds in need. Learn more information about our program, and submit an application on our volunteer page.