Spring breakers help local free pelican

Edmond Alexander holds up his rescued pelican.

A lot of birds visit Edmond and Cynthia Alexander's dock, which juts out into Western Lake. Sometimes they are just resting, but recently one needed a helping hand.

Two weeks ago, Edmond saw a pelican sitting on the dock, where it spent most of the morning. He watched the bird for a bit before trying to get closer. Edmond got about 3 feet from him before the bird attempted to launch, but couldn't and crashed upside down into the water, but not before Edmond saw that one of its wings was bound to his body by a large wad of monofilament, a metal leader and a small weight. He knew there also had to be a hook buried in that mess.

From the dock the bird swam down the lake to the shoreline and rested in the weeds at the edge of the lake.

Edmond tried to crank his small lake boat but couldn't. That afternoon, evening and next day, thunderstorms developed and by the second day the pelican was nowhere to be found.

Over the next couple of weeks, friends helped him look for the bird — but to no avail.

On Monday, Edmond saw a pelican swimming in the cut of the lake, which was open. With binoculars, Edmond determined it was indeed the injured pelican. He attempted to sneak up on him but the bird took off running and flapping into the Gulf, but at noon the pelican returned to the cut.

Edmond went out and recruited the help of some young spring breakers who formed a line into the surf while Edmond walked the pelican toward them. When the bird broke for the water, Edmond dove in and was able to capture him in waist deep water.

Back on shore, he removed two hooks from the bird's wing, including a fairly large treble hook with two barbs that were stuck in the muscles of the bird's upper wing. He also cut away about 20 feet of mono and a metal leader.

Before leaving the beach, Edmond noticed the pelican had made it back up onto the beach to rest. He waded the cut to check on him and was allowed to walk right up to him before he stood up and stretched his wings, free at last.

Edmond determined to be on the beach the next morning with a bag of frozen minnows.

"I didn't think he would be flying for a while but at least he could find food," he said.

The next morning as he tried to get his boat running he noticed a pelican swimming down the shoreline. Edmond watched him catching minnows along the shallow shoreline as he swam toward him and Edmond ran back to the house for the minnows that were thawing in the refrigerator. He returned just as the pelican came swimming up to the dock.

"He spooked when he saw me, but I pitched a cigar minnow to him and he quickly turned around and swam back for it. I fed him four more cigar minnows before he left to go touring the waters edge looking for more food," he said.

The pelican spent nearly all day in the cove feeding.

"I saw him catch a lot of fish besides the big cigar minnows that I pitched to him early in the morning. He looked healthy and seemed content swimming around the shoreline," he said.

Later that day as he worked on his boat engine, Edmond saw the pelican swimming down the shoreline and went to the house to get some more minnows. By the time he got back to the dock the pelican was at his dock. He spooked again but this time he jumped from the lake surface with wings flapping and became airborne and flew and glided to the other side of the lake.

"I was thrilled and it brought a tear to my eye. Those hooks I pulled from his upper wing were truly dreadful. When I pulled them I wondered how long it would restrict his flying. The feathers will still need a bit of mending before he will be able to join his buddies gliding with the wind down the beach, but now I know that he will be able to fly. I had worried about him being lake locked when the weather warms and the alligators are back looking for easy targets," he said.

The Alexanders have lived in South Walton since 1987 and this is not Edmond's first rescue operation.

A few years ago a buzzard came into his backyard with a busted wing. The buzzard stayed with the Alexanders from December through August that year, dining on the Alexanders' fish, and then chicken breasts, which they fed him on white paper plates. 

"He was so smart; he would tap on the window for us to feed him, but he never got closer than 10 feet," said Edmond. "He began flying off and coming back. One day he came back and I put down about half the amount of chicken that he was accustomed to getting. He ate that, then picked up his plate and laid it down at the base of the door. I went into the house and got more, put it down on the porch, and the cats went for it. Buz came walking up and put out his wing to keep the cats back so he could have his meal."