Know before you go: ‘Pier pellies’

The brown and white seabirds are a common sight along the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, shuffling along the railing or dive-bombing the water.

It’s easy to see why. Our pier is frequented by their favorite food: fish. These birds have earned themselves the nickname “pier pellies.” Pier pellies can become habituated to humans if they find it is easy to get food around people.

But when pelicans and people mix, issues can arise said Caroline Stahala, Audubon Western Florida Panhandle shorebird manager.

It can be tempting when a pier pelly approaches asking for a snack to feed them spare bait or even people food. They can seem like feathered dogs, begging for a treat.

But do not give in.

Stahala and birds advocates say it is critical that we not feed these feathered friends.

“The easier they can get food for them, the better. It is low-effort food to them basically. We highly encourage people to not feed the pelicans. That includes directly and indirectly,” Stahala said.

This can be especially harmful when the food they are getting from people is not part of their natural diet.

“That sort of food is junk food to the birds. Nutritionally, it is not what they need,” Stahala said.

The feeding encourages the pelicans to interact with people, which can lead to trouble. Sometimes the birds can get caught in fishing line, swallow hooks or even fall ill after people have fed them things their systems are not equipped to handle.

Another big issue for pier pellies can arise when people try to touch the birds.

It is a very, very bad idea to pet a pelican.

For starters, pelicans have a hook-structure on the end of their beak used when they dive for fish. That hook-structure can cause deep cuts if the bird bites a person, which is all too likely if you try to pet them. The birds are also prone to feather mites and may carry contaminants on their feathers.

The birds may also have been previously hooked by fishermen or caught in fishing line. These hooks can cause cuts to those handling them.

Human touch can also damage the natural waterproofing of pelicans’ feathers that they need to be able to dive down and catch fish.

So don’t touch. Instead use that up close vantage of these pier dwelling birds to get a great photo.

If you see a destressed pelican on the pier, call our local wildlife refuge at 850-650-1880 or Florida FWC at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). Use care when handling the bird. A towel over the face is extremely helpful. When possible, leave it to the professionals.

Pelicans are graceful creatures, and symbolic to coastal communities. If we respect them, it can be a wonderful experience to see them up close on our pier. Come see for yourself through

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