Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Pelican in the Wading Pool

Nobody told me when I married a game warden that a pelican would take up temporary residence in my children’s wading pool. Nor did I realize my two tiny daughters and I would spend a couple of days throwing our hooks and lines off a bridge over Big Creek trying to catch enough fish to satisfy that visitor. On the other hand, that eating machine never expected to vacation at our house either.

This event occurred in the late 80s somewhere around Memorial Day weekend. City workers called to explain an injured pelican was devouring gold fish in the  power plant pond. Despite their efforts to banish it, the bird was in the water gobbling little fishies.

This intruder had to be evicted. Every kid in town, little and big, loved that rock pool where they tossed breadcrumbs and oatmeal to tempt orange and white swirls to the surface. Even to feed something as exotic as a pelican was no reason to sacrifice the community fishpond population.

While my husband already knew about pelican beaks, the girls and I learned swiftly to stay out of range of that powerful weapon /lunch sack. Mr. P wasn’t at all happy about his forced removal and tried scaring us with clacking sounds manufactured by snapping jaws. It wasn’t worth risking hand or finger amputations to save frantic gold fish.

 I distracted this fellow while my brave partner snuck behind to slide a huge rubber band around that slashing defense mechanism. Once we had it disabled, we could see a broken wing had driven the creature to the city watering hole for dinner. Who knows how far the crippled bird had walked to fill its rumbling belly. We carefully swaddled it in an old blanket and hauled it home to figure out a plan.

Three decades ago, cell phones and instant communication were a thing of future, and the rehabilitator Wildlife and Parks used wasn’t answering the phone that weekend. As a result, we brainstormed a strategy to care for this creature our daughters had named LA Looks for the spiky top notch on it crown.

The girls volunteered their little blue wading pool to house our guest and their services as fisherwomen. Each had a Mickey Mouse pole they used to cast off the wooden bridge east of our house. It seemed like a good idea at the time, so their dad left us baiting our hooks as he drove off on patrol.

After catching a few palm-size fish, our youngsters released them into the water-filled container Mr. Looks now called home. My husband had unbound the critter’s beak so it immediately slurped up our meager contribution. We stared in disbelief at how swiftly he scooped our catch into his mouth and how far his pouch distended once full of flopping protein. It looked like an expandable bag until he slid those critters down his gullet. Then it shrank immediately back to its previous size.

The bird immediately searched the water for more food. Obviously, a few little perch weren’t sustenance enough, so the girls and I headed back to the creek. We filled a stringer to feed our guest, and once again, his response dazzled us. 

It occurred to me there was no way the human part of this equation could keep up with the pelican’s appetite. I needed to make a trip to the IGA fish department. All the way there, I wondered what it was going to cost to board this fellow until he went to the rehabilitator. I prayed my budget was as big as his stretchy pouch in case he had to stay more than a day.

Along with fish the girls and I caught, we supplemented LA’s diet with frozen whitefish. These codcicles confused him at first, but he eventually slurped them down the hatch. 

While I’d never want to feed a pelican week after week, hosting one for a couple of days was delightful. We were happy to learn LA Looks survived  surgery to show off how many fish he could tuck in his pouch for nearby zoo patrons.

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