In care: Brown Pelican with an odd injury

Lead poisoned BRPE
Photo by Bill Steinkamp

Often we receive birds with inexplicable injuries. This is one such case.

Animal control officers recently transported a Brown Pelican with an injured foot to our Los Angeles center. Our veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca Duerr, found and removed two sharp, wood objects that had impeded the bird’s ability to bear weight on its foot.

And that was just the beginning. Dr. Duerr then found a fishing hook embedded in the back of the bird’s throat requiring surgery to retrieve. During surgery, more hook fragments were found in the pelican’s stomach, all of which also were removed.

And here’s the mystery injury: The x-ray you see here shows a large metal object embedded in the pelican’s synsacrum, or pelvis. It was lodged deep in a hole adjacent to the spinal cord, completely surrounded by bone. Dr. Duerr initially assumed this metal object was a bullet of some kind, but upon cleaning it off after surgery, noted that it looked more like a fishing sinker.

photo 2


If that’s the case, how would a 12 millimeter-long fishing sinker get embedded in the pelvis of a pelican? Speculation so far has settled on a high powered slingshot or some sort of homemade ammunition. Tests came back positive for lead toxicity, for which this bird is currently undergoing treatment.

Pelicans with fishing line or tackle-related injuries continue to flood our centers this summer. Monofilament line can create horrible constriction wounds and hooks may penetrate joints or other crucial anatomic areas. If you see fishing line or hooks in the environment, you can do the birds and other animals a huge favor by carefully picking it up and disposing of it properly.

This likely cruelty case comes about two months after the Pink the Pelican story.