A successful local rescue mission has three endangered American White Pelicans resting at a wildlife rescue facility in the Lower Mainland.
The birds, whose only nesting colony in B.C. resides at Stum and Puntzi Lake out west, were rescued from Puntzi Lake last week and are recuperating at the Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C.’s facility in Burnaby.
The three adult pelicans have injured wings, said Julie Steciw, a wildlife biologist with the Ministry of Forests who along with Shane White, another wildlife biologist, and Puntzi Lake resident Marvin Severson captured the pelicans last week after being alerted by Ingrid Myckatyn who has lived at Puntzi Lake on and off since 1991.
“They should have been long gone,” Myckatyn said. “It was really tugging at my heart strings.”
Myckatyn said she first noticed the pelicans on an island in the lake, which is about two kilometres away from her house, and the fact they weren’t flying away yet.
She reported the plight of the injured pelicans to Second Chance Animal Rescue Society and Steciw on Sunday, Nov. 25.
“It wasn’t too difficult to capture them because none of them could fly,” Steciw told the Tribune, noting they used a boat borrowed from Fisheries and Oceans and long poles with nets on the end to guide the pelicans closer to the boat Tuesday, Nov. 27.
They scooped the pelicans out of the water and put them directly into cages which they covered right away to alleviate the stress of being caught.
“We cover them so it’s darker,” she explained. “It calms them down when they are in the dark.”
Steciw said they cannot speculate on what caused the wing injuries.
Sue Burton, a volunteer with Second Chance, picked up the pelicans from the Animal Care Hospital in Williams Lake and transported them to the Williams Lake Airport where Pacific Coastal transported them free of charge to Burnaby.
White American Pelicans have traditionally nested at Stum Lake, about 70 kilometres away from Puntzi Lake, but Myckatyn said they started nesting at Puntzi Lake five years ago.
She first discovered them while kayaking with a friend.
“It was exciting news for us.”
Linda Bakker, co-executive director with Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C. said Tuesday they don’t think the pelicans are doing particularly well.
“Their injuries are very severe and we are worried about their well being and pain levels,” Bakker said.
“They have fractures. You can imagine if your upper arm was broken - it would hurt a lot.”
Bakker said they are working together with the ministry to determine what the best course of action will be for the birds.
“The prognosis is very guarded, I don’t think they will be released back into the wild.”
The pelicans are being kept together in an indoor enclosure because the weather is getting cold, she added.
“Pelicans are very susceptible to frost bite on their feet,” Bakker said. “Normally they wouldn’t experience this type of weather because they migrate south.”
They are being fed herring and smelt at the shelter, she added.
“They consume large amounts so our freezer is empty.”
It is the first time they have housed White American Pelicans at the facility Bakker said.
“It’s very special.”
After the devastating Puntzi Lake fire in 2015 the community wondered if the pelicans might not return, but they did, “no problem,” and the numbers have “exploded exponentially,” Myckatyn said.
Related: Pelican problems at Stum Lake
“In the first year my girlfriend and I counted about 60 to 70 chicks and in the next year there were close to 200. It’s such a tiny island I worry they will run out of real estate.”
Myckatyn said since her husband died almost three years ago she lost interest in fishing so watching pelicans is a great diversion for her.
“When I am in my kayak they actually approach me within 50 or 60 feet. I tell them to ‘go away,’ because we are supposed to stay away from them.”
In the summer of 2018 the pelican count at Puntzi Lake was an estimated 296 nests and a total of 262 chicks.
“For many years we had nesting failures at Stum Lake which is why I think they moved over to a different lake,” Steciw said. “They continued to nest at Stum Lake and we’d have partial nesting failures, which means some would re-nest. So we would have chicks at Stum Lake as well as Puntzi.”
According to the B.C. Bird Atlas the American White Pelican is on the British Columbia Red List and is one of only three species listed as Endangered under the British Columbia Wildlife Act, due to its small, extremely localized, and vulnerable breeding population.
Steciw has been studying them since the mid 1990s and said they have been recorded as far back as 1953 in the Stum Lake area.
From the Chilcotin they fly south through the Okanagan and Kootenays to winter in California and Mexico.
“Hopefully people will continue to report injured pelicans to us through FrontCounterBC or by calling the RAPP-line,” Steciw said. “I know Second Chance also fields injured wildlife questions.”