Tarred and Feathered: How Was Hula Valley Pelican Covered in Oil?

Experts believe bird was blackened while fishing in contaminated waters during migration.

A completely black pelican, from beak to tail, has been seen flying over the Hula Valley and feeding from its fish ponds over the past few days. Experts believe the bird was blackened by oil while fishing in contaminated water somewhere during its migration.

Nature photographer Dror Galili, who took shots of the pelican, said it looked as if it was functioning normally. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I took lots of pictures; I’m amazed at how well it’s managing,” Galili said.

However, according to Tel Aviv University ornithologist Prof. Yossi Leshem, director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun, there was no doubt the oil sticking to the bird’s feathers was making it difficult for it to fly because it would have to beat its wings more frequently than normal.

Galili was told about the bird by a fish-farm worker in one of the Hula Valley kibbutzim. According to Galili, he searched for the bird for three days in every possible body of water in the region, until he spotted him.

Galili said he consulted experts as to whether the bird’s color could be the result of natural pigmentation, but they ruled it out. He said it was unlikely the bird could be trapped for examination and treatment because pelicans are notoriously difficult to catch.

“Pelicans pass through the Hula Valley during their migration, which begins in South Sudan. Probably sometime along the way it went fishing in a contaminated pool. It’s hard to know exactly what happened along the way,” Leshem said.