Two pelicans buffeted off course to Rhode Island by the winds of Hurricane Sandy are going to be heading back to the Gulf Coast Tuesday, but they won’t be traveling in the same style that two other pelicans did last weekend.
No private plane for these two weary wayfarers. They’re flying Delta.
On Saturday, the first two birds were flown by a private plane to rehabilitators at the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet, Fla., who will care for the pelicans until they can be released, said Kristin Fletcher, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island.
Rescuers went out the very next day to take in the third brown pelican, she said. They picked up the bird by jet ski and brought him into the center in Saunderstown.
She said the weary and wornout bird was off the coast of Prudence Island, alternating between shivering on a green buoy and a rock.
“They’re a species that is not designed to survive up here,” Fletcher said. “They get some level of hypothermia and they just kind of stand there.”
Fletcher’s team gave the pelican a quick assessment and found the bird had no major issues. “His weight was decent, so he had been successful at finding food around here,” she said. But “he did have little telltale signs of the trip up,” including some battered feathers, she noted.
Caretakers washed out the five-person tent that they had used to house the previous pelicans because the bird couldn’t be left outside to brave New England weather and no indoor cage was big enough, she said.
The nomad pelican would soon have some company.
Another brown pelican, which was found pecking at a garbage dump in Nantucket, was brought to the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, said Deborah Millman, director of the center, which is run by the Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals.
“He was eating scraps and his wing looked a little injured,” Millman said.
Millman grew up in Seekonk, but spent 25 years in Florida before moving back to the Bay State in May. She was shocked to hear about pelicans this far up the coast.
The bruised bird had a droopy wing and was given fluids, fish, iron, and Vitamin K, she said.
“We kept him warm and fed,” Millman said. “He just charmed everybody. He was a great patient.”
The bird, which had been banded in Virginia last year, started feeling better quickly and enjoyed strolling through the medical ward, she said.
Caretakers brought the bird to the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association on Wednesday so the pair could be together, Millman said.
The pelicans were instantly happier when they saw each other, Fletcher said.
“You could almost see the look of relief on their faces,” she said.
Fletcher said because brown pelicans are flock birds, they are much more comfortable in a group and will comfort each other during the flight to Florida.
Because the rehabilitation center is a nonprofit organization funded by private donations, Fletcher said scheduling a second private flight would have been a bit too pricey.
The birds will be put in a modified dog carrier and placed in a heated cargo hold.
Airline regulations mandate that any animal be able to turn around within the cage, but the more space there is, the more likely the birds will injure themselves, Fletcher said.
Rehabilitators attached netting on the interior of the cage to prevent the birds from sticking their beaks through the ventilation holes on the side of the crate, she said. They also placed cardboard over the metal door.
“We just make sure that it’s pelican-safe,” she said.
Fletcher said all four of the pelicans blown up the coast have been juveniles.
“It leads me to wonder if the adult birds have a way with coping with the storm or have a better sense of what to do when that sort of storm hits,” she said.
But her team remains prepared to provide a lift south for any more birds they find, she said.
“There are other birds out there that will probably succumb to the elements,” Fletcher said. “The situation is all wrong for them, but if we get them in and they’re in good enough condition that we can stabilize them, we’ll deal with the financial side of it when it arises.”