Do One Good Deed

After saving a pelican in distress, we felt that we had done what we were supposed to do

By Mike Jopek

We walked the white sandy beach of the state park preserve after successfully navigating Thanksgiving with family. A lonely brown pelican was tangled up in a long line riddled with fishing hooks.

Immediately I wanted to find a ranger. My wife inched her way forward toward the large fish-eating bird. She couldn’t do anything. We’d raised chickens for decades.

The pelican wanted little to do with us. It was clearly in trouble. Its left leg was wrapped with line, purple from the lack of blood. It had multiple hooks stuck to its six-foot wingspan body. A large lead sinker dangled from its tail.

The pelican with its black beady eyes and foot-long beak managed to fly fifteen feet up the beach with one foot tied. We slowly pursued. It looked emaciated. Nothing like us post Thanksgiving.

We crawled to within a foot of the bird. We waited. It waited. It stared at us terrified. We stared at it terrified. My wife reached for it. It departed up beach.

On the third try we slowed down more. We inched closer, waited.

It’s just like a turkey we told ourselves. We’ve done plenty of farm-rescue on poultry that have gotten into trouble throughout the years. But on the farm, we have access to tools and the expertise of others.

No one was on the beach, just the scorching early morning sunshine, seashells, and sand. The waves splashed the shoreline.

Slowly, ever so slowly, my wife placed her hand on the pelican’s back. It remained calm, but turned its foot-long beak and tried to greet us. With poultry we hold the beak. It seemed like a reasonable approach.

With beak in hand and large wings tamed we needed to cut the line. Its foot was tightly tangled.

Who walks on the beach in shorts, sandals, sunglasses, cap and a trusty pocketknife? As a farmer, I clearly have a daily need for the utensil, but this was the beach.

Why would I have my red Victorinox single-blade in my pocket? Who knows, but I was happy to pull it out and open the sharp blade.

I had packed the blade in my checked luggage earlier. I didn’t want to leave home without it; I knew I couldn’t clear security carrying it.

Gingerly I cut the multitude of line wrapping its webbed foot. Next it was time to pull the hooks out of its body. I grabbed them individually and maneuvered them out. The bird didn’t move. My wife held it and that beak.

It rested; we regrouped. All of us were nervous.

There was more line to remove. That large lead sinker still dangled from its tail. We were almost done, we assured it.

Soon it was free at last. It seemed like forever. It was but blinks of an eye. The line was removed, the hooks lay in the sand, and the bird was free. It just looked at us as we looked at it. It felt surreal. Did that just happen?

We parted, gathered our flip-flops, and picked up the hooks and line to throw away.

Down the beach we walked. We looked back. It looked at us. We felt happy but unsure. Did we do right, should we have just found help. It was too late; we had acted and taken charge.

Back at the pier the anglers were happily fishing. On a post was a sign that demonstrated how to save birds that got hooked. I guess it happens frequently. We felt better. We did what we were supposed to do. It felt like a good deed.

Off in the ocean, pelicans were diving from 50 feet in the air and enjoying their Thanksgiving prey.

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