A endangered American white pelican is pictured at wildlife rescue in Burnaby, B.C., Friday, November, 1, 2019. The pelican faces a long recovery after being injured by some fishing line discarded in a British Columbia lake. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Injured endangered white pelican found in Okanagan lake faces long road to recovery

The bird had been near Tucelnuit Lake in Oliver, B.C.

An American white pelican stood in front of two mirrors in a tiny recovery room on Friday, stretching to reveal a glaring wound and messy feathers on its left wing.

The endangered bird was discovered in British Columbia’s southern Interior last week with punctures and tears caused by hooks from a fishing line. The pelican was brought to the Wildlife Association of BC in Metro Vancouver, where staff said it faced a long recovery.

Janelle Stephenson, hospital manager for the non-profit association, said local residents told the rescue crew the bird had been near Tucelnuit Lake in Oliver for about two to three weeks while his flock was flying south.

“All his friends had left,” she said at a news conference.

The pelican had managed to survive on the fish from lake but wouldn’t have lasted much longer, Stephenson said.

“It was consistent with fish hook injuries, quite starved, emaciated … and not doing the best,” she said.

“He was slowly wearing away at his fat stores and muscle stores and the infection from the wound was getting into his blood stream.”

The pelican weighs about 5.5 kilograms and is underweight, Stephenson said, adding it is about 70 per cent of his normal weight.

READ MORE: Wildlife group reminds of pollution dangers after pelican hurt in Okanagan lake

American white pelicans are an endangered species because of their small, extremely localized and vulnerable breeding population, according to the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia.

The population estimate for British Columbia is 1,100 to 1,200 birds, and the estimate for the number of breeding pairs is 300 to 500, it says.

The bird atlas says it breeds in scattered, larger wetlands in western and southern North America, and winters in the United States’ Southern Coastal Plains and coastal California through Mexico and Central America.

Stephenson says it looks like the pelican at the wildlife rescue association will spend winter in recovery with them.

It may not be able to fly at all if its wounds heal poorly, she said.

Right now the bird is feeding on smelt, herring and supplements along with antibiotics and other medications to help in recovery, she said.

It is also receiving physiotherapy where staff stretch its left wing to aid in healing.

Staff at the rescue association don’t know the age of the pelican and don’t have a name for it. It is known by its case number, 19-3974.

On Friday, it snapped its yellow beak as it looked around the warm room where it is recovering. A black bucket with fish sat in a corner.

“The personality is a little bit less feisty than it should be,” Stephenson said, adding that the bird is in pain.

“It could be a lot more active and a lot more bitey.”

The staff is trying to reduce its stress as much as possible, she said, including by adding mirrors to its room to help the pelican feel it has a companion.

“He actually spends most of his time next to the mirror, hanging out with his mirror friend. It’s actually really adorable.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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