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Injured pelican released into wild after months of rehab in O.C.

Months after Nigel the pelican was found in Irvine entangled in fishing gear, she is returned to the wild. Her fractured beak required innovative surgery.

August 16, 2012|By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times
  • After multiple surgeries and months of rehabilitation, Nigel the pelican spreads her wings at a marsh in Irvine, near where she was found entangled in fishing gear. Rescuers outfitted her with a device to track her whereabouts.
After multiple surgeries and months of rehabilitation, Nigel the pelican… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

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 it was discovered to be a female — was released into the wild.

Rescuers found Nigel, an American white pelican, near the Sea and Sage Audubon House in Irvine in April with a six-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 that 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 eight 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 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.

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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