Pelican admitted with gaping hole in pouch

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

A brown pelican was among the 44 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week.

The brown pelican landed on a charter boat cruising the water in Estero Bay. The pelican had a gaping hole in the right side of its pouch leaving its trachea exposed. The pelican was obviously in need of assistance. The charter boat operators contained and transported the pelican to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care. See images from Good Times Charters’ Facebook page.

The pelican was incredibly stressed and reactive when admitted. Hospital staff started the pelican on electrolytes, antibiotics, Chinese herbs and an antifungal medication. Our approach to caring for the pelican was uncertain because there was concern that any fish the pelican attempted to eat would fall out of the large hole in its pouch.

Staff was encouraged when the pelican showed it was able to self-feed without the fish falling out of the hole in its pouch. The pelican being able to eat on its own meant staff could keep handling to a minimum. The pelican continues to recover in the bird room at the wildlife hospital.

The injury this pelican sustained is often seen when a barbed fish hook is ripped out of the soft pouch tissue. A barbed fish hook is designed to not come out, therefore damage is significant when a barbed hook is forcibly removed.

Please, if you or someone you know participates in angling activities, be responsible. Never cast your line if birds are flying nearby. If you accidentally hook a bird, do not cut the line or rip the hook out of the bird.

The humane way to handle a bird that has been accidentally hooked is to reel the bird in carefully but quickly (a bird struggling against a taut line may cause the monofilament line to break and allow the bird to fly off entangled in the hook and line). Gently push the hook through until the barb is exposed and then clip the barb off. Once the barb is removed, the hook is easily backed out. This method of hook removal causes the least amount of damage and suffering.

Of course, if the hook is deeply embedded, or if the hook has been ingested, the bird should be contained and brought to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical attention.

Recent Releases

A gopher tortoise, a purple gallinule, four eastern cottontails, a big brown bat, a Brazilian free-tailed bat, a Cooper’s hawk and four grey squirrels were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Visit the Conservancy website at to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Volunteers help in many different capacities and are vital to the success of our work. If you think you could dedicate one shift a week to help in the hospital contact our volunteer office and get involved. Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships truly help us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

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