Wayward pelican makes Ketchikan home

Posted: Tuesday, June 03, 2003

KETCHIKAN (AP) A wayward brown pelican has taken up residence here, wowing fishermen with its spectacular plunge-diving fishing skills.

Misty Pattison said the pelican has taken to hanging out on the docks at the Knudson Cove Marina.

''Someone called me on the radio and said there's a pelican out here, I said 'sure.' I thought they were seeing things,'' Pattison said.

She said the pelican has captivated the neighborhood.

''It'll fly right low to the water, almost touching it and then it will gain altitude and dive-bomb the water,'' Pattison said. ''It looks like a crash landing, but it's not.''

Brown pelicans eat mostly fish. They plunge dive from heights of up to 20 to 60 feet in their attempt to catch fish and their bills can hold three times more than their stomachs, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.

Fisheries biologist and bird enthusiast Steve Heinl identified the bird as a brown pelican. Heinl sits on the Alaska Checklist Committee, which maintains records of species proven to occur in the state.

He said this might be the first official sighting of a brown pelican in Alaska. The only other record of a brown pelican in Alaska was in Ketchikan in March 1996, said Heinl. That bird, it was found out later, hopped a ride on a tugboat so it was not officially listed as a bird species for Alaska.

Resident Walt Northrup said the brown pelican didn't receive a warm welcome from the cove's eagles and seagulls.

''When it first landed (on a float near Northrup's home), an eagle promptly came along and knocked it into the water,'' Northrup said.

After the pelican took flight, Northrup said eagles and seagulls began chasing it.

''They weren't getting along for beans,'' Northrup said. ''Every time it was flying around out there, something was bothering it for the first morning, anyhow.''

Rich Rogers, a captain on the motor vessel Prince of Wales, said the bird has taken a liking to the ferry during its voyages across Clarence Strait, and kind of follows the boat.

Rogers, a native of California, said he is used to seeing brown pelicans from his time as a fisherman in San Diego and Los Angeles.

''I saw it and I didn't even mention it. It never dawned on me. I'm from California and they're really common down there,'' Rogers said.

It wasn't until a fellow IFA employee informed him that pelicans don't live in Alaska that he realized the significance of what he had just seen.

Ketchikan resident Clark Davis was traveling on the IFA ferry Friday when he saw the bird attempt to board the vessel. It tried to land on the bow mast about three times or so and didn't quite make it.

''I think it was blowing too hard,'' Davis said.

Heinl, who recently saw the pelican, said it appears in good health and shouldn't have a problem surviving off of herring and other baitfish.



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