Home Again: The Adventures of Ralph the Lady Pelican

Posted Dec 26, 2011 by Marcus Hondro
There are a few oddities in the story of a pelican named Ralph who recently returned to the wild after a wild adventure in a foreign country and the U.S., where Ralph hails from. The first is that Ralph is a woman, a female named Ralph.
Australian Pelican
Australian Pelican
Wikipedia / Fir0002
But of course a female named Ralph is but odd to you and I; naturally Ralph the pelican doesn't much care about what she's called. Ralph is from the east coast and was blown way off course during Hurricane Earl back in September of 2010.
She wound up in Canada, battered and bruised, landing on the roof of a strip club in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Landing on the roof of a strip club in a foreign country is another oddity in Ralph's story, though you may be accustomed to pelicans landing infirm on strip club roofs. At any rate, she was alone and needed help.
Ralph the Pelican: Cared for by Canadian Wildlife Society
The name of the club? 'Ralph's Place Showbar', which of course lead to the staff at the 'Hope for Wildlife Society' in Seaforth, N.S., where Ralph was sent to recover, to name Ralph: Ralph. Initially, being as she was large and well built, the staff, unaccustomed to pelicans, thought Ralph was a male. It wasn't until she was returned to the U.S. that it was determined he was a she.
She was in poor shape but Hope Swinimer, founder and the society's namesake, and staff, were diligent. At first they had to force feed Ralph her herring and vitamins and she needed baths twice daily - Swinimer says Ralph was "high-maintenance" - but they managed. The public became interested and followed Ralph's progress. Whenever Swinimer came across something she didn't know she sought advice from a pelican rehabilitation center in Florida.
"Ralph was just such a character, she won everybody's hearts and she brought a smile to our face on the cold winter days," Swinimer told a reporter for the Canadian Press on December 24. "And people were really impressed with (Ralph) and wanted to follow Ralph's progress. It drew a whole bunch of people together. It taught people to care a bit more about nature around us."
Trip to Newport pelican sanctuary
Swinimer and her society kept the wayward bird some 6 months and finally, in March of 2011, Ralph was strong enough to be returned to the United States. Before being returned to the wild however she needed to get used to being a pelican again, to live with other pelicans and do pelican things. So Ralph was sent to a pelican sanctuary in Newport, N.C..
The trip itself was an adventure, with Ralph and Swinimer and a volunteer driver, Garry Sowerby, taking 3 days in a specially fitted truck, with well-planned out stops so Ralph could regularly hydrate herself, But it was done and Ralph lived with other pelicans in Newport before being set free. She hasn't been heard from since and Swinimer's happy and sad not to have had Ralph show up again on her doorstep. "It's really good news that Ralph hasn't turned up again," she said. "Usually when an animal shows up again it's because they were in trouble."
It seems you don't hang out with a pelican everyday and not be affected, not feel a bit of a vacuum, and perhaps the biggest oddity in this story is that it may not be Ralph who, despite having her life saved, got the most out of the whole experience.
"It's just not going to be the same this winter without Ralph," Swinimer said.