Brown pelicans need help

Published 9:07 pm Saturday, December 20, 2008

Most birds migrate south for the winter.

It seems brown pelicans have migrated too, just a little more north.

According to research done by the Wildlife Response, Inc., development in some of the traditional nesting grounds for brown pelicans on North Carolina’s Outer Banks began forcing the birds to move north and establish regular waterfront haunts in Hampton Roads.

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“They’re just expanding their range basically, so it’s like a natural progression of the species it seems,” said Lisa Barlow, president of the WRI.

With more birds in the area, Barlow said the WRI has had a massive influx of cases for sick or injured birds.

Coming into the coldest months of the year, Barlow has compiled a few tips for Suffolk citizens if they come across such a bird.

Things to keep in mind:

4You can approach a sick or injured bird. In fact, being able to walk up to a pelican is proof the bird needs help. “People need to attempt to contain a (sick/injured bird) or stay by it until we can come get it,” Barlow said. “There’s something wrong with the bird if you can walk up to it, and it doesn’t fly away.”

4If a bird appears wet, something is wrong. “If it looks wet, it’s lost its waterproofing and something’s wrong,” Barlow said. She added that if a bird has lost its waterproofing, it’s more susceptible to frostbite and immediate care should be taken for the bird.

4If a bird appears lethargic or tired in its flight pattern, it needs help. “That means they’re not finding enough fish,” Barlow said. She said most pelicans weigh between 7 to 10 pounds, but the WRI has rescued birds that weighed as little as 3 pounds. “They can’t defend themselves, they can’t get around, and they continue to lose weight, because they can’t fish or fly.”

4If you find a bird that is underweight, do not feed it. “Do not feed them because it habituates the bird being fed by humans,” Barlow said. “But do call and get them care and get them the food they need and a nice warm place. It’s always nice. We try to get them the best care we can and wait out winter until we can release them in the spring.”

Since the WRI opened in 1992, it has helped rehabilitate more than 370 brown pelicans. And Barlow said that number will continue to grow, even from the city of Suffolk. Just last week, they came to rehabilitate a brown pelican that had become so weak it could not fly and was hit on the James River Bridge.

“A lot come from Virginia Beach, and a lot comes from Gloucester and the Monitor/Merrimac area,” she said. “We get them all over these days.”

For more information, call 235-3189.