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American white pelican shot on Mill Lake near Land O’ Lakes

August 23, 2019 by Jacob Friede

A rare visitor to the Northwoods got a most tragic welcome last month.

An American white pelican was shot on the northern end of Mill Lake near Land O’ Lakes on July 27 and received fatal wounds.

“Ultimately the bird had irreparable damage to the wings and some internal damage as well, and possible some spinal damage because it couldn’t move it’s legs, so it had to be euthanized unfortunately,” said Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) warden Tim Price who is leading the ongoing investigation.  

The incident took place at around 4:45 p.m. on July 27. That’s when witnesses on a pontoon boat heard gun shots emanating from another pontoon boat and saw the shots were being directed at a white pelican.

The witnesses raced over to check on the pelican, but in that time the offenders slipped out of a cove and onto the main lake where they blended in with a group of other pontoon boats.

The witnesses were unable to identify the offending pontoon boat or any members of the party onboard.

They then called the Vilas County Sheriff’s Office and the investigation was passed on to WDNR warden Price. Price then contacted Wild Instincts Rehabilitation Center in Rhinelander to assist with the wounded pelican. 

According to Mark Naniot, director of rehabilitation at Wild Instincts, the witnesses on the water, whom he reached by phone, agreed to capture the bird.

“They were kind of afraid because pelicans are fairly large birds, and so I kind of talked them through the capture process which they were able to do because the bird was in pretty rough shape,” Naniot said. “They captured the bird and then came from Land O’ Lakes to Eagle River and I met them at Eagle River and then brought the bird back to our facility.”

Naniot said the bird was in terrible shape.

“It had been shot at least, I would say, three to four times,” he said. “There was at least three or four different shot holes from the gunshots and there was multiple broken bones, internal injuries, and way too much damage to repair.”

The complications of the injuries stemmed from the fact many of the bird’s bones were broken too close to the bird’s joints.

“You can’t really cast it or splint it because there’s really nothing there to really have bone to really work with,” Naniot said. “And then what happens is when that calcifies then the whole joint calcifies and it’s kind of like arthritis, so to speak, so that the joint gets all built up with calcification, does not move properly.”

Pelicans migrate and must fly long distances, therefore such injuries, coupled with the severe internal damage, were a death sentence.

The bird was euthanized at Wild Instincts.

Price said the incident is isolated and a pelican being this far up north was rare.

“I’ve been up here for 14 years and this is the first white pelican that I’ve seen up this way,” Price said. “Their range is getting a little bit bigger. They’re real prevalent around the Green Bay Area and Fox River system down there, but up this way I’ve never seen or heard of a white pelican being up this way.”

Price speculated the offenders viewed the pelican as a nuisance.

“Unfortunately there’s a lot of misperceptions about wildlife in terms of what they do eat and how much they eat,” Price said. “When people are uneducated about a species then that could cause some issues.”

Anyone with any information about the incident is urged to call the WDNR’s confidential tip line at 1-800-TIP-WDNR (1-800-847-9367). The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and callers can remain anonymous. 

“We appreciate the public’s assistance and input. They’re kind of our eyes and ears out there for us,” Price said. “It’s nice when our general public can work with us together and try to have some type of resolution for it.”

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