Two brown pelicans buffeted off course to Rhode Island by Hurricane Sandy are scheduled to head back to the Gulf Coast on Tuesday, but not in the same style another pair enjoyed last weekend.
No private plane for these weary wayfarers: They will be flying Delta.
Last Saturday, the first two birds were flown in a private plane to the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet, Fla., where they will receive care until ready for release, said Kristin Fletcher, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island.
Rescuers went out the next day by jet ski to rescue a third brown pelican off the coast of Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay, she said. The worn-out and shivering bird was alternating between a green buoy and a rock when the crew picked it up and took it to the association’s clinic in Saunderstown.
“They’re a species that is not designed to survive up here,” Fletcher said. “They get some level of hypothermia and they just kind of stand there.”
Fletcher’s team gave the pelican a quick assessment and found no major problems.
“His weight was decent, so he had been successful at finding food around here,” she said, but “he did have little telltale signs of the trip up,” including some battered feathers.
Caretakers set up the bird in a five-person tent that they had used to shelter the first pelicans from the cold, since no indoor cage was big enough, she said.
The fourth pelican was found pecking at a garbage dump on Nantucket, and taken to the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, said Deborah Millman, director of the center, which is run by the Humane Society of the United States and the Fund for Animals.
“He was eating scraps and his wing looked a little injured,” Millman said.
Millman grew up in Seekonk, but spent 25 years in Florida before moving back to the Bay State in May, and said she was shocked to hear about pelicans this far north. The bruised bird with a droopy wing in her group’s care was given fluids, iron supplements, and vitamin K, she said, and fed some fish.
“He just charmed everybody. He was a great patient,” Millman said.
The bird, which had been banded in Virginia last year, revived quickly and seemed to enjoy strolling through the medical ward, she said.
The bird was taken to the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association on Wednesday so the pair could be together.
The pelicans seemed to brighten when they saw each other, Fletcher said. “You could almost see the look of relief on their faces,.”
Fletcher said because brown pelicans are flock birds, they are more at ease in a group, and they will comfort each other during the flight to Florida.
Because the rehabilitation center is a nonprofit organization funded by private donations, Fletcher said, scheduling a second private flight would have been too pricey.
The birds will be put in a modified dog carrier and placed in a heated cargo hold aboard the commercial flight next week.
Airline regulations mandate that any animal be able to turn around in a carrier, but the more space, the more likely the birds would injure themselves, Fletcher said.
Rehabilitators attached netting inside the cage to prevent the birds from oking their beaks through thpe ventilation holes on the side of the crate, she said, and also placed cardboard over the metal door.