Please DO NOT feed fish scraps to birds

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

A brown pelican and three gray squirrels were among the 60 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida last week. Other admissions include a white Ibis, an eastern screech owl, a red-bellied woodpecker and a Florida softshell turtle.

The brown pelican was rescued from the Naples City Dock after it was seen struggling with a large fish carcass stuck in its throat. Sadly, it was the second pelican admitted from the Naples City Dock in less than a week that had a filleted fish carcass stuck in its throat.

Both pelicans received similar emergency medical care. They were sedated in order to remove the fish carcasses. For one pelican, the trauma caused by the large spines on the sheepshead’s dorsal fin puncturing its throat proved fatal.

The second pelican survived the trauma and is currently recovering at the Conservancy.

The pelicans had attempted to ingest filleted sheepshead carcasses.

Two problems

Two problems exist when pelicans attempt to swallow fish the size of a sheepshead. One is that sheepshead are too large a fish for pelicans to swallow. Pelicans typically eat small bait fish.

The second problem is exactly what we saw with both these pelicans — the large spines on the sheepshead dorsal fin pierce through the soft tissue in the pelican’s throats making it impossible for the birds to regurgitate the carcass.

It is unclear how the pelicans came across the filleted sheepshead carcasses. Many fishermen purposefully toss fish scraps to birds because they think they are being kind by feeding the birds. Other fishermen feed the birds as a way to entertain tourists. Pelicans can also gain access to fish carcasses if fishermen do not properly dispose of their fish scraps.

Video from January 10, 2014

Feeding birds also creates future problems

Feeding wildlife is never a good idea. Providing hand-outs, especially to pelicans, causes them to associate humans with food. This leads them to expect handouts in the future. A pelican can’t tell the difference between someone throwing them fish scraps and someone casting a line that is baited with fish. Once they see the fish on the end of the line, they go after it thinking it is a scrap and end up getting hooked, or worse — they ingest the hook. Ingesting a hook and line often results in death.

Please don’t feed wildlife. It may be entertaining to you but it is a matter of life and death for the animals. If you see someone feeding fish scraps or filleted fish carcasses to birds, take the time to politely inform them of the dangers this causes the birds. Many people just don’t realize the harm caused by feeding wildlife.

Recent releases — 28 animals go home

  • 5 raccoons
  • 7 eastern cottontails
  • 1 gray squirrel
  • 5 brown pelicans
  • 2 double- crested cormorants
  • 2 cedar waxwings
  • 3 gray catbirds
  • 1 Florida softshell turtle
  • 1 yellow-rumped warbler
  • 1 ovenbird

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website at and learn about the many opportunities there are to get involved.

Volunteers are vital in our efforts to assist native wildlife.

If you are unable to give of your time as a volunteer, become a member or donate.

However you choose to become involved, your support will help the Conservancy continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

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