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Rescue on hold for stranded pelican

Marie Thurn, left, a volunteer who helps rescue injured and ill wildlife, comforts Katie Mattson who made the call Thursday morning to rescue a lone pelican that is stranded on a small, frozen lake west of New London. The bird, which can be seen in the background, is unable to fly. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

NEW LONDON -- Rescue efforts are on hold for a lone pelican stranded on a small, frozen lake west of New London.

If the weather warms up and the ice melts, a rescue attempt could still be made.

But despite the best intentions of a rural Willmar couple to summon help Thursday to rescue the juvenile pelican that apparently can't fly, wildlife and law enforcement officials say going out on thin ice now to rescue the bird would put human lives in danger.

"Foolish," is the word used by Wayne Hatlestad, district supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources.

"The ice is very unsafe," said Hatlestad, who oversees enforcement in a 10-county area, including Kandiyohi County.

That message was difficult for Katie Mattson to hear.

She and her husband, Tim, had been watching the pelican for the last month sitting on a muskrat house on Middle Lake after the bird did not migrate with other pelicans this fall.

Katie Mattson made calls Wednesday looking for help after seeing the pelican struggle in a small circle of water in the otherwise frozen lake. It was especially disturbing when she saw an eagle land nearby and feared the bird of prey would kill the pelican.

After making a series of phone calls, Mattson got in touch with Marie Thurn, who has volunteered for decades to rescue wildlife from around the state. The 67-year-old Thurn works closely with conservation officers and has brought many wild birds to the University of Minnesota's raptor center over the years.

On Thursday she drove from her home in Glencoe and stood on the edge of the lake as the pelican preened, flapped its wings and hobbled awkwardly on a thin sheet of ice. It looked like a foot may have been injured.

Thurn used a unique application on her smart phone that produced the call of a pelican in an attempt to lure the bird to shore.

It didn't work.

She suggested tossing fish, like bullheads, onto the ice to attract the bird.

But Thurn reiterated that no one was to venture out on the ice and no one should use a boat to break through the ice to get to the pelican.

"No buts, no ands, no ifs about it," said Thurn. "Do not get stupid."

Putting human safety first doesn't mean people don't care what happens to the pelican, said Thurn, who lamented that she didn't get a call about the pelican until after the lake was frozen.

"People do care," Thurn told Mattson, who fought back tears.

Thurn said if the weather changes and the lake opens up again, a boat could be taken out and the bird could be caught with a net.

In a telephone interview from his office in Hutchinson, Hatlestad said it's impossible to know why the pelican is still here but said it's not unusual for wild birds to be left behind, sometimes because of injuries.

"It happens almost annually," he said.

Hatlestad agreed to the wait-and-see approach and said if the ice melts on the lake, a rescue attempt by boat could potentially be made by a volunteer, but stressed no one should go out on the ice in an attempt to get the bird now.

That message was sternly reinforced by a Kandiyohi County Sheriff's deputy who drove by as Thurn and the Mattsons were watching the pelican.

Hatlestad said as long as the bird is still doing well, there is no reason to destroy it.

"We'll let Mother Nature run its course," said Hatlestad. "Unfortunately Mother Nature isn't always kind."

"There is nothing, sometimes we can do for nature," Thurn told Mattson. "It bothers me as much as it does you," she said, giving Mattson a hug.

"Thank you for your big heart," said Mattson.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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