Yesterday, we released a rehabilitated pelican to a wild flock. When I got Lori’s call that he was headed over to the island, I was hoping we would be able to release him on the beach at Osprey walk, coinciding with the scheduled happy hour. So we headed to the ferry dock to meet Cindy Steffen, a volunteer for the SC Center for Birds of Prey. While they usually deal with raptors, they have some new folks who are also experienced in sea birds. This juvenile brown pelican was brought in after being found swimming alone. He was fluffy and down covered, but somewhat malnourished. Three weeks later, he has his feathers and self-sufficiency and needs to be with a flock. The necessity of a flock trumped the fun of releasing him on the beach with a supportive group to cheer him on.
Cindy had talked to Captain Paul Zobel about trying to get him close to the shell middens at the end of the cut, where there is usually a flock of pelicans hanging around. Since we had a hard time envisioning the ferry getting close enough, (and we couldn’t pass up the chance to be part of it), we jumped on our motorboat with Cindy and the pelican, and headed out to the channel. A large group of brown pelicans seemed to be settling in for the night. We coasted up to the edge of the bank, and Cindy released him gently over the side of the motorboat, close to the flock but not so close that we would startle them. He swam to shore and then sat on the bank, waiting alone, apart from the group. We took Cindy back to the marina.
On our way back, we coasted toward the bank as quietly as we could to see how he was faring. We were glad to see that he had joined the flock. He looks like he’s still assimilating, but I think he’ll be fine.