The pelicans are coming to the Keys!

March 10 – The Keys are currently in the height of pelican season, which means the birds will be seen in our area.

Tom Sweets, executive director of the Key West Wildlife Center, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on with our wildlife.

Sweets said, “Compared to other years, we have had less numbers of pelicans rescued through our clinic and aviaries. It’s sort of like anything, even with the sea turtles, sometimes the sea turtles depending on the year, you’ll have a year where there’s not as many that will be down here.”

Most pelicans seen in the Keys during this time of year are juveniles.

A manatee was rescued recently in Key Largo and the Dolphin Research Center and FWC joined together to help the animal that was caught in a fishing net.

Sweets said, “I just wanted to give them a shout out for a great job. We always love partnering with other organizations and it’s great when different organizations work with each other to get animals rescued.”

There have been some pelican rescues recently at the wildlife center. Most of the pelicans that come through the Keys were born on the Carolina coast.

Sweets explained, “After they’re born, they take off on their first migration once they’re ready and they head south. As they’re heading down from the Carolinas during a very cold snap, you may not believe it, but occasionally we will get pelicans with frostbite injuries on their feet. We had quite a few of those this year.”

All it takes is a pelican to land on any metal railing during really cold weather and frostbite can form.

Sweets said, “As long as we can get them patched up, which we do, they are able to survive quite well with those injuries, but you may see some of those birds out there. We did just release a batch of them. They will have small holes and sometimes they will have missing toes.”

The wildlife center also had a pelican on Bay Drive with a large deep sea fishing lure with treble hooks, which had pinned the bird’s chest to its beak.

Sweets said, “It couldn’t really raise its head and it couldn’t see. I spent a couple days up there trying to make the rescue, but we could never get close enough to this bird to get this rescue because the bird was really agitated and in pain.”

The bird wasn’t seen for a few days, but the community reached out again to the wildlife center. It had made it to Smathers Beach, where it was quite hungry and weak.

Sweets said, “We were actually able to make the rescue there, safely remove the hooks and that bird has already been released because as soon as it was treated and had a few meals, it was a good weight and it was ready to go. So that was a really exciting rescue. Sometimes you can’t rescue them all, but sometimes you do get a second chance and that’s really do to how great the community is in supporting us in these type of situations.”

The pelicans with brown heads are juveniles and they can sometimes get confused quite easily.

Sweets said, “They’re not trained by their parent bird in the next like some birds are. Most of these brown pelicans leave the nest and they learn from other pelicans as they migrate, so they’re not exactly the greatest hunters for the whole first year. What will happen if they miss too many meals on their migration down here, they will end up in strange places.”

The wildlife center has rescued pelicans from back yards, parking lots and even city hall.

Sweets said, “They get dehydrated or emaciated and then they make poor decisions and end up in poor spots. So anybody that sees a pelican in a strange spot this time of year, give us a call at 305-292-1008. That’s our 24 hour rescue line.”

The wildlife center will go out and rescue the pelican. They cover from mile marker 0 up to mile marker 30 or 31.

Remember, it’s illegal to feed the brown pelicans.

Sweets said, “The big, big problem is just feeding brown pelicans at fish feeding stations. People will clean their fish and the carcass with the bones exposed, that can be especially dangerous. Pelicans in the wild, they normally just eat bait fish, no larger than nine or ten inches long. So their system really isn’t able to handle or digest – swallow even – the large, bone-in fish carcasses. A lot of times once the fish is fileted, the large exposed sharp bones, if they’re tossed to a pelican, they can slash the pouches or if it is swallowed, they can cause internal damage.”

Additionally, if a pelican is fed on a regular basis, they become tame and won’t hunt on their own anymore.

Sweets said, “And that causes all kinds of problems around marinas.”

The Key West Wildlife Center has a number of fundraisers throughout the year.

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