At International Bird Rescue we do not normally receive very many American White Pelicans, but in the past few months we have admitted three of them: one with two broken legs (see story), one currently in care at our Los Angeles center for minor injuries, and one that somebody shot in the face! Now admittedly, fall is hunting season and these guys live in wetlands where duck hunting happens, so it is possible this wasn’t malicious and the bird was hit by a stray bullet. Regardless, it is, of course, illegal to shoot pelicans.
This gorgeous bird came to us after being found in Palo Alto at Matadero Creek at the Baylands. His first caregivers at Peninsula Humane Society noted the bird had blood in his mouth and inflated skin around his eyes with a scab under his left eye. Our vet thought from the initial pictures we were sent that it could be a gunshot wound. She was correct: the scab was an entry wound and the bullet was lodged on the opposite side of the roof of his mouth after passing through his cheek. The bullet was still lodged in his sinuses at the roof of his mouth (see x-ray, right).
Removing the bullet was easy but the passage of the object through the bird’s face caused abnormal air movement in his head. The inflated ‘cheek’ skin persisted and got worse until he was so visually impaired he was unable to look downward very well. White Pelicans need to be able to search below themselves in the water for dinner, and this guy was having trouble even navigating walking downhill very well. So, during a second surgery, our vet opened up both problematic cheeks and sutured closed any holes she could find that might be causing the air leakage and took a tuck in his facial skin lest he be left with, as the staff put it, “bags under his eyes”.
So far so good. His abnormal facial inflation has not returned and his wounds are healing. We have hopes he’ll be ready to release before too long!