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Pelicans blown north by Sandy get ride home to Florida

Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island

Two pelicans taken care of by the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island hang out in a camping tent before being flown to Florida.

Two brown pelicans blown to Rhode Island by the winds of Hurricane Sandy were flying back Saturday to their natural habitat in Florida -- via a private plane.

The first of the large birds, whose wingspans measure 6 to 7 feet, was found on the side of a road at Fishermen's Memorial State Park on Nov. 7, nine days after the storm made landfall in New Jersey, said Jennifer Brooks, clinic director at the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island.

The bird, a juvenile likely from a nest in North Carolina, had been tagged by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and records showed it was presumed to have died, she said.

The second pelican landed on a fishing boat about 120 miles south of Block Island the following day, she said. The crew of the boat, which provides fish to SeaWorld theme parks, fed the bird for several days before docking.

"They were a little bit thin, they were a little beat up from the storm," Brooks said of the birds. They had lost tail feathers and suffered scratches to their throat pouches, which are prone to frostbite in northern climates, Brooks said.

Animal workers had been keeping the birds in an outdoor shelter before moving them into a camping tent inside the clinic.

On Saturday, they were flown in containers similar to dog crates to the Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary in Florida, she said.

The cost of the flight -- about $2,000 -- was covered by public donations, Brooks said.

Brown pelicans typically fly as far north as North Carolina during the summer to form breeding colonies before flying south for the winter, Brooks said.

Birds naturally are blown northward by storms, but "it's unusual for us to have pelicans," she said.

"They do get pushed by these northward storms, so that's what happened to these guys," she said. "They should have been going south."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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