Rescued pelican finds new home at Detroit Zoo

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published August 25, 2020

 Detroit Zoological Society veterinary staff recently healed a female American white pelican’s injured foot with a series of custom-made splints.

Detroit Zoological Society veterinary staff recently healed a female American white pelican’s injured foot with a series of custom-made splints.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo

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ROYAL OAK — A female American white pelican found in May near the Port of Monroe, Michigan, with injuries to her wings and foot almost did not make it.

The migratory species has increasingly in the past few years been spotted throughout Michigan, and zoo officials believe the pelican became separated from her scoop, as a group of pelicans is called, and survived the winter.

“People were reporting that she was by herself and had fishing line wrapped around her beak, although it wasn’t there when we got her,” said Bonnie Van Dam, associate curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society. “She was super skinny and afraid, I’m sure, because she wasn’t in an area she was familiar with anymore.”

A local licensed rehabilitation specialist picked up the bird and then turned her over to the Detroit Zoological Society after deeming her non-releasable due to her injuries and refusal to eat.

Dr. Ann Duncan, chief veterinarian for the Detroit Zoo, examined the pelican and determined that she had old fractures in both wings that prevented her from being able to fly, as well as a new injury to her foot that inhibited her ability to walk.

Her prognosis was initially poor, but she began eating and gained weight. Duncan and her staff made two custom splints, and even incorporated part of a pool noodle, to fix her foot as it healed over the course of two months.

“We dewormed her. She had parasites and lice,” Duncan said. “When we took the splints off, she walked totally normal. It was amazing that it worked.”

Duncan estimated that, without help, the pelican would not have survived longer than two more weeks.

“It’s a great success story,” she said. “We’re so happy to give her a place to make a recovery.”

Van Dam said the American white pelican has joined four pink-backed pelicans in the American Grasslands habitat at the Detroit Zoo. The pink-backed pelicans, named Wesley, Leonard, Slash and Izzy, arrived at the zoo in June 2014.

“She’s very tough. It’s truly amazing that she was able to survive and keep herself fed with all of her injuries,” Van Dam said. “We’re still thinking on her name. We want to make sure we give her one that is strong and fitting of her personality.”

The new pelican can be distinguished by her larger stature, bright yellow beak, whiter plumage and black-tipped wings.

“In these trying times where COVID-19 has affected everybody, it’s kind of nice to see a happy ending,” Van Dam said.

The Detroit Zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, west of Woodward Avenue.

For more information or to make a reservation to visit the Detroit Zoo, call (248) 541-5717 or visit detroitzoo.org.

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