The bird in the hands of Kent Brunell this morning was a trompeter swan -- apparently shot by a hunter on its right wing. But more frequently it's been Pelicans that Brunell, a former veterinarian from Becker, has rescued lately.
"A funny thing happened to me on the way to catching a pelican," Brunell chuckled, in reference to the swan he was in the process of saving.
On his way home from church a week and a half ago, Brunell spotted a lone pelican out on a frozen lake. Although the lake is named Pelican Lake, Brunell knew something was wrong.
"It caught my interest," Brunell recalls. "I stopped the car and got out and looked. There were a couple of dead pelicans laying there on the shore. So, I chased down the one pelican on the and ice and took him to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville. [That's how] I began a quest to see how many of them I could capture."
Along their migratory route south from Canada, about a thousand American White Pelicans typically spend several weeks on Pelican Lake each fall. It's not unusual for a few dozen sick or weak birds to be left behind when the rest of the flock heads farther south towards the Gulf Coast.
"Their instinct to migrate," says Philip Jenni, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, "overwhelms everything else. So, when they're left behind, there's something wrong. They don't just decide to stay."
Brunell successfully rescued ten pelicans and brought them to the WRC. Those birds are currently being nursed back to health and later will be flown to a Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gulf Coast.
Meanwhile, Brunell recently spotted what he believes is the last pelican on Pelican Lake this season-- the sole survivor.
"I caught his buddy the other day," Brunell says, "byjust getting down on my belly and sliding on the ice right up to the shore while these two guys were sleeping. I got within ten feet of them and I was able to net one, but I couldn't get the other one and he got away from me."
Late Tuesday morning, after temporarily stowing the wounded Trompeter Swan he'd just captured in the back of his jeep, Brunell and two helpers pushed a small boat out onto Pelican Lake, hoping to catch that last pelican. If they failed, the bird would no doubt die soon.
"It'll die like the other out here that are without food and water," Brunell predicted. They die from hypothermia, they become cold because they don't have any food in them to generate."
Soon after spying the last pelican through a pair of binoculars, the pelican flew away.
"We'll have to wait until he gets to the point where he can't fly away from us," Brunell said dejectedly, as he returned to shore. "But I'll be back out here."