MERIDEN — Arvy the brown pelican, whose rescue from the cold waters of the Connecticut River drew national attention, will be grounded for the rest of her life due to frostbite she suffered before two volunteers flew her from Meriden to a Florida wildlife sanctuary two months ago.
Despite two surgeries and rounds of painkillers and antibiotics to clear frostbite damage from her webbed feet and a nasty infection from her upper respiratory system, Arvy’s last flight will be the 12-hour, 1,050-mile journey by plane that began at Meriden-Markham Municipal Airport on Feb. 4. The pelican lost about 30 percent of her feet to frostbite, which leaves her incapable of landing well, said Amy Kight, executive director of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary of Jupiter.
“She can’t balance herself properly, and if she can’t balance properly she can get more infections or damage [to her feet] and that would end up being a wildlife management nightmare,” Kight said Wednesday.
Flying an RV-12 light sport aircraft built by 24 Wilcox Technical High School students and members of the “Teens to Flight” program last year, mother and daughter pilots Laurie and Arianna Strand of Bristol and their feathered passenger got closeup views of New York City at dawn and the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral at dusk during their journey, which took Arvy to altitudes pelicans never attain.
The rescue effort began when Arvy was found almost dead from hypothermia at the docks of the Corinthian Yacht Club in Essex on Jan. 27. No one knows exactly how the pelican ended up in Connecticut in January, but she appears to be less than a year old. Arvy’s youth likely contributed to her either never migrating south for the winter or possibly hitching a ride north, perhaps on a fishing or recreational boat out of the Carolinas.
Surgeons removed damage from the frostbite, necrotic bone and tissue from her feet, during the two surgeries, and will know in a week or two whether she will need a third operation, Kight said.
Arvy won’t ever make it back into the wilderness, but don’t think that she will have a tough life. Right now she is undergoing rehabilitation and training to join the nearly 200 wild animals in permanent residence at Busch Wildlife, where she will act as a goodwill ambassador to the center’s human visitors and assist in educating the public about pelicans, said Stephanie Franczak, the sanctuary’s hospital director.
The training includes learning how to stand on a small half-barrel in a wildlife display in an amphitheater at the sanctuary. When she’s working, her trainers always put her on the barrel and feed her there to reinforce it as her place to be, Franczak said.
“She is a very bright, fun bird,” Franczak said. “Pelicans are very adaptable, and she is taking everything in stride. She adapts to it. She is very strong.”
Named after the plane that flew her to Florida, Arvy loves the attention she gets from her human hosts. She has been so loveable that Franczak, who helps treat the nearly 6,000 rescued wildlife Busch rehabilitates annually, has paid her the ultimate compliment.
Franczak has a tattoo of the bird on her forearm. She also complains regularly about Arvy, albeit in a loving way, because Arvy is quite a character. An example: Pelicans feed on herring, capelin and thread fish, but Arvy has made it clear that she will only eat herring, Franczak said.
“She is a spoiled little brat when she is with us,” Franczak said.
Arvy’s human hosts have her right where she wants them, Kight said.
“I say the bird trained the staff more than anything. I think they felt pity for this poor creature and just adjusted to her whims,” Kight said.