Morro, the educational California Brown Pelican, was most likely born on the western islands of Baja California or possibly, but less likely, on the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, in 2008. Morro lived a year in the wild until April of 2009 when he was found at the edge of the Bayshore Condominium complex in Morro Bay, California. Starving, he was brought to Pacific Wildlife Care in Morro Bay by a member of the public.
Morro had sustained an injury to his left wing’s elbow joint. Dani Nicholson, Center Director for the wildlife center at that time, helped to care for Morro, hoping that the swelling in his wing would subside and that the wing would be able to extend to its full capacity. His rehabilitation went on for months, and, although his wing improved, it never quite healed completely enough to enable him to fly beyond about 4’ off the ground.
At this point, several zoos and other educational facilities were contacted to try to find a place for this very young bird. (The oldest recorded Brown Pelican lived 43 years.) No facility was found and so, in 2012, Dani Nicholson, a wildlife rehabilitator and educator, applied for educational status.
In July, 2012, Dani received the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) permit to take Morro out to schools and educational presentations throughout San Luis Obispo County. Morro has visited many residents and visitors, and is always a big hit.
Dani and Morro continue to teach people about the many hazards to all seabirds: fishing line and fish hooks, oil spills, feeding of fish carcasses too large for a pelican to swallow, abuse from some fishermen who feel threatened by such a large bird, and of course, always the common cause, starvation, especially of the juvenile pelicans.
The large birds fledge at 3 months of age, and from then forward must learn that beautiful but intricate plunge dive from heights of sometimes up to 60 feet in the air. The learning curve is steep, and most likely, it is one of the major causes of accidents to pelicans. Also, weakened juveniles, just learning to fish, show up on our beaches and piers and fall prey to easy handouts, furthering the other hazards, fish hooks, fishing line, abuse… and the cycle continues.
Morro first gets the attention of our audiences, and then Dani, as his spokesperson, uses the opportunity to share all of the ways that we can avoid harm to pelicans and other seabirds, and she shares ways to help a bird who has been injured. Morro has reached hundreds of individuals, and possibly thousands.
Morro is also one of the stars of the highly-praised documentary by award-winning filmmaker Judy Irving about pelicans that has been shown throughout the country, starting in October 2014. Her film, Pelican Dreams, was first shown, with Morro present, at the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo on November 15th, 2014. It is now available on DVD.