Pelican found sick in Winnipeg pond fully recovered, set free

An American white pelican that was the sole survivor of a dozen birds found sick at a Winnipeg retention pond last month has fully recovered and been released back into the wild.

More than 50 sick birds have been gathered from two city retention ponds in past two weeks

The rescued and healed pelican was released on Wednesday at Lockport. (Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre)

An American white pelican that was the sole survivor of a dozen birds found sick at a Winnipeg retention pond last month has fully recovered and been released back into the wild.

"We're really happy to see this guy made it," said Tiffany Lui, animal care co-ordinator at Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre. "It's such a big bird, a very lovely bird."

The pelican was released Wednesday morning in Lockport, north of Winnipeg, where it joined a squadron of others fishing and relaxing on a rocky island.

"It was so awesome. Pelicans are community-driven — they like to be with each other," Lui said.

Several birds have died or become sick, unable to fly or even walk in some cases, at two retention ponds in Winnipeg. (Choo Rosenbloom/Facebook)

A dozen sick birds, including two pelicans, a grebe, and some gulls and shorebirds, were initially gathered in August by volunteers at the Santa Fe Park pond, near Adsum Drive.

They were taken to Wildlife Haven, where all but the pelican released Wednesday had died by Aug. 29. And it was touch-and-go for that big bird, too.

"It was very weak, couldn't even stand, couldn't keep its head up," Lui said. "We were concerned about whether or not it would get better. Luckily it did and it got stronger and stronger every day.

"When it started standing, we were so elated. And now it's back outside where it belongs." 

Dozens of birds still sick

While the pelican has a fresh start, there are dozens more birds still in dire straits. Wildlife Haven has now collected more than 50 from the Santa Fe Park pond and a second pond, on Lakebourn Drive, a couple of blocks away.

Lui said volunteers have been going to the ponds on a daily basis and picking up any birds showing signs of sickness.

Four shorebirds were released last week but a number of ducks are now coming in, including one the same day the pelican was set free, she said. Some ducks, however, have been in care for about a week and are almost ready to be released.

"We're at least seeing a little more progress, I think because we're being more proactive now in patrolling the area and making sure we get them as soon as we can. When we first found out about [the initial batch of sick birds] it was already too late."

The City of Winnipeg and the province are having dead birds from the pond tested to find out what is making them sick. Lui suspects it is avian botulism, which occurs in stagnant ponds.

"There's no oxygen going through and there's no flow into a river or anything like that. And with the dry season we had this year, it reduced the water levels and concentrated everything to the point where it just got worse and worse," Lui said.

About the Author

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt began his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009.