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After a Bad Air Day, She's Ready to Fly Right

July 21, 2006|Kelly-Anne Suarez | Times Staff Writer

Crash, "the Drunk Pelican," waddled out of her cage Thursday afternoon near the jetty at Corona del Mar State Beach, yawned, stretched her wings and, after a glorious moment of airtime, plummeted.

The California brown pelican, less than a year old, gained notoriety about a month ago when she was taken into custody at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach for flying under the influence. After noshing on algae containing domoic acid, which is associated with red tide, she became intoxicated and flew into the windshield of an SUV in Laguna Beach, earning her name.

Although it isn't unusual for pelicans to get drunk on algae, this was the first time anyone at the center could recall one of the birds slamming into a car.

The pelican underwent surgery for a broken foot and injured pouch, followed by three days in the center's intensive-care unit. "We really thought we were going to lose her," said Crash's caretaker, Lisa Birkle, assistant wildlife director at the center.

After a month in rehab, Crash emerged a sober -- albeit wobbly -- waterfowl.

Not to worry. Immediately after her plunge, the pelican rolled in the ocean, did a little shimmy and joined the 10 other pelicans who had suffered a variety of maladies and were released at the same time.

"Crashing into the water isn't the worst thing after you've crashed into a windshield," said Debbie McGuire, the center's director. Both McGuire and Birkle looked on, like worried empty-nesters, as their "underage drinker" regained her sea wings.

Pretty soon, Crash was soaring through the sky. Away from traffic and into the wild.

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