Injured pelican released back into the Lakes

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A pelican with suspected chemical burns has been released back into the Gippsland Lakes after a community effort to save its life.

BirdLife Australia’s Project Manager, Deb Sullivan, said the injured pelican was first spotted toward the end of November near a fish cleaning station.

“She looked like she had been through a bushfire,” said Ms Sullivan, “but on closer inspection she was covered with an oily substance to her entire body and suffering from soft tissue burns. Whilst the injuries were bad for any bird it was made worse to see that it was one of the young birds we had banded in 2018 – and just 12 months old.

“It was a long day trying to find her and to catch her, because despite the injuries the bird was moving quite well and other pelicans were often in the way. But fortunately, just a day after the original sighting we were able to catch #205.

“The bird was taken straight to our local vet for emergency clean up, assessment and treatment. Feather and blood samples have been sent to the laboratory for analysis to determine what substance was covering the bird, we are still waiting the results.

Ms Sullivan said the most heartening part of this story was the community effort to help the young pelican.

“We’re incredibly lucky to have such an amazing and giving community who stepped up to help,” continued Ms Sullivan.

“So many people chipped in to save this bird’s life. From Skipper Pete Johnstone of Lakes-Explorer and Water Taxi, who helped find and follow the Pelican with the use of his boat, to vet Dr John Ward who helped catch and treat the bird, wildlife carer Trevor Lamb who was tasked with the specialist care required until #205 was released and Tony and the team at Far out Fishing Charters who have been providing the fish while it’s been in care. It was a fantastic team effort”

Pelican #205, who is yet to be named, was banded in December 2018 as part of the BirdLife Australia Pelican project, funded by the Victorian State Government for the health of the Gippsland Lakes.

“I spotted #205 as part of my regular project monitoring, and my heart crashed when I saw the state it was in.  I was determined to catch and treat it for its injuries.  The first year for any bird is tough to survive and this predicament was certainly going to be a challenge for this bird,” continued Ms Sullivan.

Without treatment to remove the substance the bird was continually going to rub its irritated soft tissue parts, such as its eyes, pouch and legs on its same oily body only compounding the problem. The beak – made of keratin like our fingernails, will also heal now that it is free from the substance causing the problem.

“I couldn’t be more thankful to all of those who have been involved in the capture, treatment, and care.,” said Ms Sullivan.

Ms Sullivan explained that the use of red and white colour bands on Gippsland Lakes Pelicans helps researchers better understand the movement of the tagged birds within the Gippsland Lakes, and where they go when they’re not at the Lakes. This colour combination is unique to the Gippsland lakes project.

“All sightings of the bands are important,” said Ms Sullivan. “ If you see a banded Pelican please record – the number on the red band, where you saw it, when (date and time), what was the bird doing and did it have company of other Pelicans? Photos are most welcome too.”

Please send your information to, the Love our Pelicans Facebook group, BirdLife Australia or the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme Canberra.

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