Brown Pelican #23-4033

December 29, 2023
Rescue Location
Cape Charles, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated

On December 29, the Wildlife Center admitted an animal we don’t often see in Waynesboro — a Brown Pelican! The Pelican had been found entangled in fishing nets in the Chesapeake Bay, just outside Old Plantation Creek in Northampton County. Luckily a fisherman spotted the exhausted and injured bird and brought it back to shore on his boat. The pelican was later transferred to the Wildlife Center for an assessment.

Though uncommon, pelicans and other seabirds are admitted and treated at the Wildlife Center. This particular Pelican was banded, and by reporting the band number online, Center staff learned that the bird was banded in 2018 on Smith Island in Maryland when it was still young. The pelican was about six years old on admission and had flown roughly 50 miles from its original home to Virginia.


Shortly after admission, our veterinary team began the exam. The pelican was dehydrated and under-conditioned, and the team noted multiple lacerations along its right leg. They also felt what they suspected was a dislocation in the bird’s right hip.

Veterinary intern Dr. Emma also noted cloudiness in the pelican’s left eye and performed an eye exam with assistance from a clinic volunteer. Pelicans can only breathe through their mouths, so they had to hold the Pelican’s mouth slightly open when restrained.

After checking the Pelican’s eyes, the vet team anesthetized the bird to better examine its right hip. Radiographs confirmed a significant dislocation and showed that the tissue surrounding the femur and pelvis had been destroyed. Dr. Emma was able to move the femur back into place, but a lack of surrounding soft tissue allowed it to pop back out of the joint.

Sadly, the pelican’s entrapment had caused extensive damage to its muscles, tendons, and ligaments that could not be repaired, even with surgery. The vet team had to make the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the bird.

Though the Center does not often admit seabirds, the most common cause of admission is injuries caused by entrapment in fishing lines or netting. The best way to prevent what happened to this pelican is to always dispose of fishing gear properly. Organizing cleanups of beaches, rivers, and other bodies of water is also a great way to help these birds stay safe.

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Your donation will help provide medical care for patients like this pelican and approximately 4,000 other patients that the Wildlife Center will help this year.