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Nigel the pelican released after first-of-a-kind beak surgery

August 16, 2012 |  2:23 pm


This post has been corrected. See note at bottom for details.

Months ago, a pelican was spotted in Irvine tangled in fishing line, hooks and a lure. Rescuers said the bird was wrapped like a pretzel as they worked for days to free and treat her.

This week, after surgeries to rebuild her beak and mend fractures, Nigel the pelican — or Nigelina, as some began calling the bird after he was discovered to be a female — was released into the wild.

In April, rescuers found Nigel, an American white pelican, near the Sea and Sage Audubon House in Irvine with a 6-inch fishing hook and lure attached to her lower bill.

Her head and right wing were entangled in fishing line.

They removed the fishing tackle, but the bird’s fractured lower bill was curved downward to the right, making it impossible for her to feed herself, according to the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach. The nonprofit organization tended to Nigel during her convalescence.

In order for her to survive, veterinarians had to attempt a first-of-its-kind procedure to straighten out her beak.

Although the initial surgery healed the fracture on the right side of Nigel's beak, there were several obstacles in her recovery, the center said.

Among the challenges, she developed an infection from the fish hooks -- which led to another fracture and caused bone tissue to die.

After weeks of observation, she was able to recover to the point at which doctors believed she was ready for a second chance in the wild, ending her costly stay at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center.

Nigel, they said, required expensive medications and ate 8 to 10 pounds of fish each day.

She was released on Wednesday where she had been found, at a marsh in Irvine, outfitted with a tracking device that will allow caretakers to monitor her whereabouts.

When she was being outfitted with the device, it was confirmed that Nigel was actually a female. Although her name stuck, some have since dubbed her Nigelina.

On Thursday, she had been spotted preening and feeding with other birds that have migrated back — optimistic news for those carefully watching her return to the wild.

[For the Record, Aug. 16, 6:50 p.m.: An earlier version incorrectly identified Nigel, or Nigelina to some, as a male pelican. The bird was discovered to be a female when she was released Wednesday.]


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Photo: After three months of multiple surgeries, Nigel is released back into the wild at San Joaquin Marsh Reserve in Irvine. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times