By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
On a cold and sunny January 5, Oklahoma City resident and popular performance artist Sonja Martinez saw an unusual sight on her front yard. She lives near Martin Nature Park and often sees wildlife, but nothing like the large white, long beaked bird she saw through her window that day.
“The dogs were going crazy,” Martinez said. “Not knowing what kind of bird it was, all I thought was that it was the biggest bird I have ever seen up close.”
Martinez grabbed her cell phone and camera and snapped a picture of what turned out to be an American White Pelican. She quickly posted it to her facebook page.
The photo of the unlikely visitor stirred a rash of comments and a friend suggested that she call WildCare Oklahoma.
Located four miles east of Noble, WildCare is a non-profit organization dedicated to wildlife rehabilitation and public education. Their goal is to provide treatment and temporary care for injured, diseased, and orphaned native wildlife and to return healthy animals to their natural environment.
“WildCare put me in touch with someone to pick up the pelican and take it to the animal shelter. Then WildCare would pick the bird up from there.” Martinez said. “The guy who arrived was so gentle with the bird, he could not have been nicer.
“When he put him/her in the cage the bird started cleaning itself. It didn’t seem too hurt or stressed,” she recalled.
Martinez named the wayward pelican after a teddy bear that her mother owned called Solovino, which means, “I came alone.”
“The pelican had a soft tissue shoulder injury,” said Laura Kintz, WildCare Oklahoma Community Liaison. “There weren’t any fractures so that makes it a pretty easy job for us.
“It’s a matter of supporting that wing and having her rest until she’s ready to go,” she said.
At WildCare each patient receives a unique admission number, and diligent records keep track of their location within the facility, their medical history, and condition upon admission.
This special bird became Pelican #15-10.
American White Pelicans are one of the largest birds in North America with a nine-foot wingspan. They are described as “majestic in the air” and able to “soar with incredible steadiness on broad, white-and-black wings.”
Look for them on inland lakes in summer and near coastlines in winter or as Sonja Martinez discovered – maybe in your own front yard.
After approximately six weeks of closely observed rest and relaxation for the pelican, WildCare announced a release event on Feb. 21. Supporters who had made donations through a special Valentine’s Day promotion were invited to a ‘mystery’ release, along with Martinez and a few of her friends who had followed the pelican’s progress on facebook.
“Who we are releasing will be a surprise for them, so help us keep it a secret,” Rondi Large, director of WildCare, told Martinez.
That chilly Saturday morning a group of about 35 people gathered at Lake Overholser for the special event.
“It’s not everyday that you get to see a pelican released into the wild,” revealed Kintz. “Everything that we do when we have a wild animal in care is to try to keep them wild by limiting their exposure to us. We do as many things hands off as we can.”
“Our job is to give them the best second chance that we can.”
Kintz gave a shout out to supporters Frank and Jean Longobardi for donating funds to build WildCare’s “Gussy Waterfowl Habitat” and “Duck Inn” in 2007.
Large said, “We do know that at Lake Overholser there is a permanent pelican. She’s made it for over a year here so if this pelican doesn’t want to leave and becomes an Okie, more power to her. She’ll at least have a companion.”
Large added, “We think it is a girl, you can tell by the length of the beak.”
Bernadette Brady, a second-year Nursery Caregiver Intern from New York prepared for the release by climbing down the rocky lake embankment with Solovino waiting below in a crate
As a Valentine’s Day gift for his wife Deby, Bill Hefner made a donation to WildCare and they received an invitation to the event.
“After it stayed in the cage for a few minutes it finally came out, spread it’s wings and took off,” Bill said. “It was a very beautiful sight. We are so thankful that there are places like WildCare Oklahoma that take animals in and rehab them to be released back into the wild.”
Kintz added, “We’re hoping that she will join up with another pelican group out here and feel right at home.”
In the early 1980’s WildCare grew out of Large’s singlehanded effort to rehabilitate a few wild animals at a time. Today, WildCare is a fully staffed facility that has taken in and cared for over 55,000 animals. Last year alone, WildCare helped nearly 5,500 wild animals in need.
WildCare is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day to admit new patients. The annual Baby Shower, one of two events at WildCare that are open to the pubic, will be the last Saturday in April from 2 – 5 p.m.
To make a donation to the new WildCare Rescue and Education Center, send checks to WildCare Foundation, 7601 84 St. Noble, OK 73068, call 405-872-9338, visit wildcareoklahoma.org or their facebook page.