Vet Files: Pelican Pouch Laceration

Large pouch laceration in this Brown Pelicans when she was admitted to our hospital.

On January 27, we received a female adult Brown Pelican with a very large pouch laceration affecting the entire right side of her pouch. She was captured by two awesome local fishermen who have rescued injured birds to bring to us before—they noticed the large hole in her pouch and realized she needed help. Pelicans with large injuries to their pouch are generally completely unable to eat since all the fish they catch fall out. The birds slowly starve while trying to eat.

When this lady came to us, she was very skinny and very hungry. Our staff used skin staples to temporarily close the hole in her pouch while she replenished herself on our menu. Once she was medically more stable, we prepared for a long surgical procedure.

Four hands! Drs. Duerr and Purdin team up to close the bird’s large pouch laceration from both ends simultaneously.

Our veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr invited her husband (also a wildlife vet), Dr. Guthrum Purdin, to come stitch from the other end and meet in the middle, which worked out quite well! The wound had a badly damaged area that lead to the removal of a piece of the pouch and the surgeons taking a tuck, and a short section near the bill tip that was left open due to its closeness to the mandible. Despite being only about 1mm thick, pelican pouch heals fastest if it is sutured in two layers with fussy small stitches, which makes it time-consuming to repair but reduces the amount of time the bird has to stay in captivity. We are reasonably confident this wound was caused by a fish hook ripping the tissue.

Brown Pelican starting to wake up after a long surgery to repair a large pouch laceration. Note the wavy stripe area near the center–this is where a portion of the pouch had to be removed and a bit of tailoring was needed. Those darkly pigmented pouch stripes normally run parallel to the jaw.

At the bird’s checkup last week, the sutures were almost ready to come out and this now feisty lady was flying really well out in our aviary. We are happy to report that she is doing great and we expect to release her as soon as the incision has fully healed!

Gorgeous female Brown Pelican out in our aviary a few days after surgery. This is breeding season for Brown Pelicans, and our girl may have missed the action this year due to her injuries, but you can see a bit of her breeding colors in the bright red at the tip of her bill – Photo by Angie Trumbo