How a Pelican Changed My Life

Dear Friend,

In the 1970s, the California Brown Pelican was an endangered species, and it was rare to see them in wildlife rehabilitation centers, as their numbers were dangerously low. Before I came to International Bird Rescue, I worked with a local group that also rehabilitated seabirds. When I first started there, I was introduced to Groucho, a beautiful female Brown Pelican who had suffered a severe wing injury and had her wing amputated as a result. She was a permanent resident, and it was through my relationship with her that I began to understand and love pelicans — especially Groucho.

Groucho lived in a large pen with a round, in-ground pool and some other seabirds — and eventually another pelican — as her companions. She was always friendly to me and wanted to interact when I was feeding or cleaning the cage. After work or during breaks when no one was around, I would sit in the pen and watch her, as I was fascinated with how she was designed, how she could turn her pouch inside out, and particularly how she could use the hook on the end of her bill, either as a deadly weapon or as something so gentle and delicate that she could pick up the tiniest blade of grass and hand it to me, talking all the time in a sort of huff-huff sound that pelicans make.

My greatest surprise was when she started climbing up onto my lap when I was sitting there. She would perch on my leg, preen herself, preen my hair and skin with that gentle hook, nibble on my ears and eyelashes, and she would eventually lay down and fall asleep on my leg, just like it was as natural as sitting on a rock. She was as curious about me as I was about her. I was surprised by this at first, but it was through these interactions with Groucho that I really came to know that birds may look like other birds of the same species, but each one has its own distinct personality traits, likes and dislikes. They are individuals with their own purpose, not just members of a flock.

I enjoyed many years of this personal and intimate relationship with Groucho until she eventually passed away. That was a sad day for all of us, as she had touched everyone’s heart with her beauty, her take on life and her willingness to be vulnerable with us. A dear artist friend of mine who knew of our unique relationship painted this picture of her for me, as he recognized what Groucho meant to me. To this day, that picture hangs in the doorway to my house.

In 1978, we were lucky to see two pelicans a year in rehab. This year, International Bird Rescue has taken in over 950 Brown Pelicans, and I absolutely know that every one of them is a unique individual, just like Groucho. IBR has taken on tremendous responsibility with all these birds, and I want to make sure that these descendants of Groucho and other birds will always have an opportunity for a second chance when they need help from us, their human family.

That’s why I decided to become a sustaining member of IBR, so that I could financially contribute to the care of pelicans and all the other birds that really need our help. As a sustaining member, my donation is charged monthly to my credit card, and I don’t have to worry about forgetting to send a check. I easily spend $25 a month on many not-so-important things, so I made the commitment to give that amount to the birds each month in this way. At this level of support, by year’s end I’ll have given $300 that I know will go directly to animals that need our help.

I invite you to join me in becoming a member of IBR at whatever level you can afford. When times are tough, I’ve always depended on our sustaining members to provide a funding base for our work. As director, this has always been important to me as I planned for the year ahead — and I am grateful for our members because of this.

When our tag line, “Every Bird Matters,” was presented to me a few years back, I immediately liked it and thought of the magical years that I spent with Groucho. Being looked in the eye, just inches away, by a pelican is a humbling experience, especially when you know that this being has no judgment or criticism of you despite what has happened to them. That was a gift that I will never forget, and it changed me in ways that I cannot express. Let me tell you from experience: Every single, individual bird matters! I hope you will join me in preserving these deserving creatures by becoming a member of IBR and making it possible for them to receive the care they deserve.

Best wishes this holiday season,

Jay Holcomb
Director, International Bird Rescue