Ralph, the stray brown pelican blown into Nova Scotia by a hurricane last year, will be returned to the United States in a couple of weeks.

But not by air.

Halifax businessman Garry Sowerby, who has driven around the world and holds several long-distance driving records, has agreed to drive Ralph by van to a wildlife sanctuary in North Carolina. They leave March 7. 

The pelican rose to local fame after being swept into the Halifax area by Hurricane Earl last September.

Ralph — named after Ralph's Club, the Dartmouth strip bar where he was found — needs special arrangements so he arrives at his next home in good health. 

"One of the reasons we wanted a full-sized van is we can put a cage in there," Sowerby said. "It's a big cage. It will give lots of room. We'll have to carry something to bathe him. Pelicans hydrate themselves by having baths."  

Sowerby's rental van runs on ethanol so he is looking for stations where he can refuel along the way. He also has to find accommodations that will accept a pelican. 

Ralph's caretaker coming too

Hope Swinemar, the head of the Hope for Wildlife Society, has been taking care of Ralph at the group's rehabilitation centre for wild animals in nearby Seaforth. She will be along for the ride as well.

Ralph was taken to the wildlife centre, tired and hungry, after colliding with a plate-glass window.

Most of the paperwork for his trip south is complete, and a veterinarian will be waiting at the U.S. border to inspect Ralph.

The preference was to fly the bird home on a plane, but Ralph got caught up in red tape worthy of a human.

People who travel to the United States on commercial flights normally pass though customs in Canada.

Although Ralph is a bird, he has to go through a similar process with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if he travels on a commercial flight. But there were no officials with the service in Halifax to give him the clearance he needs to fly commercially.

Bird to join other pelicans

Ralph will spend the rest of the winter at a rehabilitation centre in North Carolina before being released in the spring.

Pelicans winter in Florida, but Ralph is young and will spend time with two other brown pelicans in North Carolina to get used to his new surroundings before being released.

This is the second time the wildlife society in Nova Scotia has helped a lost brown pelican find his way home. In 2003, it took two weeks to get the necessary paperwork to return a pelican named Nigel to where he belonged.

With files from The Canadian Press