A Fed Bird is a Dead Bird

by Rae Hartwell
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The Brown Pelican remains a still point of tourist delight and is one of Florida’s most iconic images. The populous bobbing birds with their prehistoric eyes and stretchy throats are in constant jeopardy of painful injuries and countless deaths every year in Key West, Florida.

“It is illegal to feed Brown Pelicans at fish cleaning stations. We cannot say it enough. Please follow Florida state law and never feed pelicans fish waste at cleaning stations.”

Samantha Plencner of Key West Wildlife Center

Every afternoon when the clock strikes Happy Hour, so does life threatening danger. Along the docks, daily catch fillets and bone-in fish carcasses are fed to pelicans for tourist entertainment.


Tom Sweets and Samantha Plencner prepare to remove a fish carcass

from a juvenile Brown Pelican found choking at Hurricane Hole Marina, Stock Island, Florida.

Peggy Koontz reaches into the young pelican’s mouth to remove the bone-in fish

carcass while Samantha Plencner securely holds both beak and body to ensure safe extraction. 

This 18 inch bone-in fish carcass was filleted and fed to the young pelican illegally.

Sharp bones lodged backwards in the throat pouch and began suffocating the bird

due to pressure against the windpipe. 

Thanks to swift rescue efforts, Samantha holds the juvenile pelican that

survived a near death experience.

“Exposed, sharp fish bones can tear pouches, choke or suffocate the birds. Bones also puncture internal organs resulting in death through peritonitis. Feeding also creates a codependency for food and pelicans cease to hunt on their own. Please follow FWC state law FAC86A-4.001 and never feed pelicans.”

Samantha Plencncer

Pelicans can live out wholesome lives of 15-20 years in the wild. In Key West, Florida why do so many not survive?

A large responsibility rests on residents and tourists of Key West to be on the lookout for injured and distressed birds. If you encounter a bird in danger, please call Key West Wildlife Center immediately at 305-292-1008. You may be saving the life of a treasured local.

Additional Information

Key West Wildlife Center

Protect Seabirds – Florida State Law FAC86A-4.001

Photos courtesy of Key West Wildlife Center, Key West, FL.

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