MERIDEN — Brown pelicans don’t usually fly as high as 6,000 feet, as fast as 140 mph, or over a distance as great as 1,300 miles in a single day. Nor do they, for that matter, turn up in Connecticut in mid-January.
But that’s why Arvy the pelican found himself in an animal carrier in the back seat of a Vans RV-12 experimental aircraft taking a daylong flight from Meriden-Markham Municipal Airport to Jupiter, Florida on Thursday after being discovered almost dead from hypothermia a week before.
The mother-daughter pilot team of Laurie and Ariana Strand, who named the bird after the plane, volunteered to fly Arvy to Busch Wildlife Sanctuary to finish his rehabilitation, said Connie Castillo, the airport’s manager.
The pilots were chosen from a group of five volunteers from the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Spirit of Meriden Club, organizations based at Meriden-Markham, as part of an all-volunteer effort to keep the pelican alive long enough to reach a specialized care center, Castillo said.
“He sounds like he is in great condition. He should have a great recovery,” Castillo said Thursday.
Arvy has had a rough week. Found by Connecticut Audubon Society member Andy Griswold and rescued by Connecticut Environmental Conservation Police officers Eugene Diefenbach and Mike Curran at the docks of the Corinthian Yacht Club in Essex on Jan. 27, Arvy was rushed to A Place Called Hope, a volunteer raptor rehabilitation center in Killingworth, said Christine Cummings, the nonprofit organization’s president and co-founder.
“When we first got him, he could not even lift his head,” Cummings said. “I didn’t think he was going to make it. He wasn’t even standing up. He was laying down, his head was cocked to the side, and he couldn’t even blink. I thought we were going to lose him right then and there.”
Exactly why the bird was in Connecticut is a mystery. Brown pelicans live in estuaries and coastal habitats, breeding along the east coast between Maryland and Venezuela. They wander as far north as British Columbia or New York, but not usually in wintertime. Cummings suspects that Arvy was a stowaway aboard a fishing boat and couldn’t get to warmer waters before winter hit.
“He was probably following the boat for the free fish,” she said.
Cummings knew Arvy was around before she received him, at about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 27. Birders put the word out on social media that a strange pelican was lost in Connecticut a few days before Griswold found him. A wildlife rehabilitator, Cummings doesn’t usually treat pelicans but, after consulting with a pelican expert in California, began treating Arvy with electrolytes administered by feeding tube every three or four hours for a solid week.
By 6:30 a.m. the next morning, Arvy could stand and begin to eat a little food on his own. Cummings kept him in a fishing tub inside a large child’s playpen at the center, her home, while feeding him four pounds of fish and changing his tub water every day. She also gave him antibiotics and cold laser treatments for frostbite lesions on his webbed feat, she said.
“Putting fish in a blender is not a fun job,” Cummings said. “Fish slurries are the most disgusting thing you will ever smell and I can’t get rid of the smell. I can’t wait until it goes away.”
Because he was strong enough to get to Connecticut and survive the cold, Arvy is likely an adolescent, meaning that his sexual orientation is a guess. Pelicans don’t develop fully until they reach maturity, Cummings said.
Arvy’s survival is not assured, but likely, Cummings said.
“I would say that since he is still alive, he is going to make it,” she said.
The Strands, who live in Bristol, were excellent choices to fly the experimental plane, which was built by local high school students last summer, Castillo said. Both are experienced pilots. Laurie Strand has flown for more than 25 years, and her daughter has a multi-engine flying certificate.
“Both are very qualified and passionate about flying,” said Castillo, who finds the entire volunteer effort to save Arvy “amazing.”
“It is such a kind, generous thing to do.”