Mystery Shrouds Brown Pelican Landing in Navajo Nation

No one knows how this brown pelican ended up in the Navajo Nation. Photo by Kerrin Grant


A juvenile brown pelican was brought to The Wildlife Center July 30 by the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife.

While the gender is not definitively known, one staff member thinks the pelican is female. She had landed in the yard of Elmer Guy, a resident of St. Michaels. 

Brown pelicans are coastal birds ─ not much coast in Navajo. The closest coast is the Sea of Cortez, 500 miles away. Perhaps she is a California girl, 600 miles away, or maybe Texan, more than 1,000 miles away. How she ended up in Navajo, we’ll never know. Maybe she was blown off course during a storm.

Guy is the president of Navajo Technical University. He felt it was a sign. He was preparing to meet with an international group of indigenous educational professionals when the pelican arrived. Several in this group came from Australia and New Zealand. Their sacred bird is the pelican.

Because she was so far from the shore, she arrived in very bad shape, extremely emaciated and on the verge of liver failure. The first couple of weeks were critical and she was force-fed a liquid diet of pulverized fish and many nutritional supplements.

The pelican spent time in the bathtub each day. Photo by Kerrin Grant.

During her initial recovery time, she was kept indoors and spent time in the bath tub daily. She made it through the difficult transition to solid food and now is happily gulping smelt and trout (3.5 lbs of fish a day.)

Now that she is self-feeding whole fish and steadily gaining weight, she has been moved into an outdoor enclosure where she has a bigger pool that allows her to stretch her wings and get some exercise.

She will remain at The Wildlife Center for another month or so while she regains her weight. Then staff will secure the proper permits to return her to the sea.

Along with caring for the pelican, The Wildlife Center staff are busy preparing nutritious diets for the more than 100 other rehabilitating animals. Two black bear cubs are fed a diet of dog kibble, veggies, mixed greens, fruit, fish and nuts three times a day. The younger cub also gets a milk formula similar to mom’s milk mixed in with his diet.

A bear being cared for at The Wildlife Center. Photo by Kerrin Grant

Five deer fawns are being bottle-fed milk formula twice a day and introduced to greens, fruit and leaves. Elk calves are starting to eat timothy hay. Bobcats are eating three rats each per day, along with quail, road-killed rabbit, elk and deer meat. A juvenile bald eagle is fed a diet of trout, and salmon when available.

In addition to these larger animals, many smaller birds and rodents are recuperating at The Wildlife Center. Last week, eight orphaned Gambel’s quail were brought in, a red-tailed hawk this weekend, two orphaned chipmunks and many, many songbirds. Many of these animals will remain at The Wildlife Center for months before they are deemed ready for release.

Three full-time staff members care for the wildlife with assistance this summer from four student interns. The interns have all returned to school, but staff continue to work long hours ensuring the health and welfare of these animals.

Young fawn at The Wildlfe Center. Photo by Kerrin Grant

The Wildlife Center is New Mexico’s only wildlife hospital serving all endemic species, and up to 1,000 animals each year. Thirty-seven non-releasable educational birds and mammals including eagles, bobcats and owls reside at the Center and are the centerpiece of more than 100 educational programs and more than 400 public tours each year at the Center and throughout northern New Mexico.

The Center is staffed by seven employees and more than 70 volunteers, who give more than 6,500 hours of their time annually.

The Wildlife Center is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization whose primary funding comes from individual donors and private foundations.

For additional information or to make a donation, contact The Wildlife Center at 505-753-9505 or visit or

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