Pelican Moves to the Zoo

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For the past month, we have had a pelican living in the greenhouse here at TreeHouse.  Today, we brought it to its new home at the St. Louis Zoo.

The keepers take the crate holding the pelican into one of the buildings where birds are housed so that they can take the bird's weight.

All new animals joining the zoo’s collection spend a mandatory 30 days in quarantine to ensure that they aren’t carrying any parasites or infectious diseases that could spread to the other animals.  The zoo is currently renovating its hospital building, so instead of going to the normal quarantine facility, our pelican will be spending its 30 days in a holding cage near the nursery.  It has a pool to swim in, and it can look through the bars at its next-door neighbor, another pelican that was rescued from Portage Des Sioux by the World Bird Sanctuary.  That pelican also arrived at the zoo today, so assuming neither bird has to spend additional time in quarantine (as a result, for example, of a fecal sample coming back with worms), both will join the flock at the same time.

We say goodbye to our pelican at its quarantine holding cage.

The zoo’s flock of American white pelicans currently consists of about 15 birds, all of which are rescues like ours.  In fact, two of them were brought to the zoo by TreeHouse in the past.  According to the keeper who checked in the pelican and showed us around, having such a large flock makes it very easy to introduce new birds.  Often, when a small number of animals are together for a long time, they will bully and exclude any new animal that is introduced.  But with a group of this size, a new addition will almost always fit in somewhere.

The flock cruises around the island where it nests.

So, next time you’re at the St. Louis Zoo, check out the pelican flock.  They nest on an island next to the Lakeside Cafe.  One of them will be the pelican we rescued from Riverlands in February.

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A Pelican in the Greenhouse

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While I was working on this post, I was having some difficulty thinking of a title.  Finally, I remembered a couple of books of short nonfiction stories by Jean Craighead George that I read when I was little.  Jean Craighead George grew up in a family of naturalists and always had unusual animals living in her house, and the stories had names like “An Owl in the Shower” and “The Skunk in the Closet.”  So, I decided to take my cue from one of my favorite childhood authors, because right now, at TreeHouse, we have a pelican living in the greenhouse.

The pelican demands fish.

This American White Pelican is one of my favorite animals that’s come to TreeHouse since I started working here.  He was left behind at Riverlands when the pelicans migrated through in the fall, and after he had been spotted walking along one of the roads in the sanctuary, we picked him up during the same trip as the trumpeter swan we released a couple of weeks ago.  It turned out that he was missing the tip of one wing, and was therefore unable to fly.  He was evidently doing OK, but we were concerned that if the lakes where he was spending most of his time were to freeze, he would be unable to feed himself and would be very vulnerable to predators.  Had we not been able to place him in a new home, we most likely would have returned him to the wild and let nature take its course.  Fortunately, the Saint Louis Zoo agreed to add him to their flock.  There is a mandatory quarantine period for any new animal at the zoo, however, and they are currently renovating their hospital building and so will not have quarantine facilities available until April.  So, we are keeping him in the greenhouse until then.

The reason that he’s my favorite has nothing to do with his personality—he’s actually quite pushy and a bit mean—or the ease of caring for him—he makes a huge mess and the whole building smells like fish if we aren’t careful.  It’s just that he’s so much fun to feed!  He gets a pound and a half of smelt each day, so whoever has animal care duties for the day gets to go into the greenhouse and toss the fish to him one by one and watch him catch them in his ridiculously over-sized bill.  If you have really good aim, the fish will just slide right down his throat and all he has to do is close his mouth!