Where the Wild Things Are
Peace River Wildlife Center sees a number of injured pelicans every year that have (pardon the pun) tangled with fishermen and their gear. Most of these encounters do not end well for the birds and many of them could be easily avoided. There are signs around many of the popular fishing spots—docks, piers, etc. These signs point out some practices that can help wildlife from being accidentally injured.
Feeding pelicans leftover bait or carcasses after fileting your catch teaches the birds to associate people with food. And even though the birds will take and try to swallow whatever is being thrown to them, quite often the fish heads and bones get stuck in their throats. Pelicans swallow a whole fish naturally head first and the bones are surrounded by soft flesh. And they will only go after a fish of an appropriate size. If you throw them a disembodied head they may think they can swallow it, only to find out too late that they cannot, because it is stuck in their throat. Bare bones not surrounded by flesh can also tear through their pouches.
We have seen pelicans with large fish heads stuck in their throats. This picture shows how badly the pelican’s pouch and throat were stretched out after we removed a large fish head. It took many days for the skin to get its normal shape and strength back before the pelican could eat again.
This pelican’s pouch may have been cut by discarded fishing tackle or a large fish skeleton the bird tried unsuccessfully to swallow.
Another important tip is to not cut line that has gotten caught in trees or on a bird. Reel in as much line as possible, get as close to the tree before cutting line, or pull the bird in and unwrap the line or remove the hook before releasing the bird. Not only pelicans get caught up in discarded fishing tackle.
One of southwest Florida’s most amazing attributes is the abundance and splendor of nature. Whether you are fishing, kayaking, photographing, or hiking, we all depend upon each other to help keep this area a great place to be where the wild things are.