An American white pelican waited out a scheduled layover in Durango on Friday morning after missing its winter flight to warmer waters at the start of the Christmas season.
Melody Miller, a wildlife technician with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, drove the bird from Montrose to Durango. At Durango Animal Hospital, it was transferred to Willy and Dixie Reynolds, a Durango couple who volunteered to drive the reluctant migratory bird to Española, N.M.
Maybe it wanted to avoid the nightmare of holiday air travel, but it's more likely that the pelican had become habituated to human contact - and free food - and saw no reason to leave.
"This bird was found up in Montrose. It had been seen in high areas, in odd areas for this bird, after it should have been gone," said Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for the Colorado DOW southwest region.
White pelicans, which typically feed in the mountain lakes of the Front Range during the summer and fall and migrate south for the winter, should be on their way to Arizona, New Mexico or northern Mexico by this time of year. But a Montrose resident found the bird on his property, kept and fed it for several days and drove it around town in the cab of his truck. A veterinarian who was called to attend to the bird alerted the wildlife division, which arrang-ed transportation to New Mexico.
White pelicans in the wild survive on perch, trout and other fish eaten whole. The meat handed out by people is often farm-raised and cleaned, and so lacks nutrients vital for the pelicans' survival. During its two-week furlough at the DOW in Montrose, the pelican got its 5 pounds a day of fresh fish donated from a local butcher.
As human populations swell and development spreads, incidents like this inevitably increase. And birds aren't the only animals that need to be on the lookout for humans.
In Durango, visitors to Greenmount Cemetery regularly feed deer at the park. With such a steady food source, deer populations can become concentrated and attract their natural predators such as mountain lions and bobcats from outside of town, Lewandowski said.
"Animals have done just fine for thousands of years and they'll continue to do fine without our help," Lewandowski said. "It's better to just let nature take its course. Leave it alone."
Of this pelican's prospects in the wild, Lewandowski isn't optimistic.
"About fifty-fifty. That's probably as good a chance as I can give it," he said.