‘Pelican people’ persevere

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

BATH — For C.M. and Geneva Woolard of Bath, every morning is like feeding time at the zoo.
For several months each winter, the Woolards take care of as many as three dozen pelicans that find the way to their home overlooking Back Creek in Bath.
This winter is the third winter the pelicans have made an appearance, according to Geneva Woolard. They arrived in mid-December and haven’t missed a day thus far.
“At first, one or two came,” said C.M. Woolard. “They have the best communications system because they tell all their buddies.”
The first year, Geneva Woolard spotted a few of the birds in the water; she tossed in a few fish to coax them closer.
“Then they started coming right on up to us and that was it,” she said with a smile. “Each year, they’re a little dubious when they first come, but then they begin following us around the yard.”
The Woolards have counted as many as 37 pelicans at any one time; the birds usually eat their fill each day and then depart. Lately, during the recent cold spell, the birds have lingered in the Woolards’ yard, roosting near the dock.
The couple estimated that they go through roughly 200 pounds of fish scraps each week. Seafood Xpress in Washington saves fish heads and entrails for the Woolards, who pick up a cooler full of the tasty tidbits (at least tasty to the pelicans) at least twice a week.
Occasionally, the Woolards notice that some of the pelicans bear banding tags; once, they called in the number on a tag and learned the bird had been banded in Maryland.
Until the pelicans depart in March or April, depending on when temperatures begin to rise, the Woolards pretty much plan their days around their guests. They’ll schedule doctor appointments in the afternoon to accommodate the early morning feedings.
The pelicans usually show up between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., according to Geneva Woolard. If the couple runs late getting down to the dock, the birds soon get them moving.
“They’ll sit on the deck and peer in the sliding-glass doors,” she said. “Sometimes they’ll tap on the glass — they let us know they’re ready to eat.”
The Woolards are greeted at the door by the birds, who follow them much like a pack of cats as they make their way across the yard and down to the dock. The couple make sure to don heavy, rubber gloves to protect their hands, although on Monday C.M. Woolard was sporting three small bandages covering small scrapes left by the over-eager pelicans.
The Woolards’ daughters, Terry and Jeannie, regularly join in the feeding frenzy. The only family member who isn’t impressed with the pelicans is the Woolards’ “granddog” Greta. She considers the visitors a nuisance and barks her displeasure on a regular basis.
One pelican in particular has been a favorite of the couple since the first winter they arrived.
“Charlie came up, and we saw he couldn’t fly. He had to climb up the stairs to get something to eat,” C.M. Woolard recalled. “The rest of them would fly right off during the day and go about their business, but he couldn’t fly. We made sure he got plenty to eat.”
The Woolards worried that, when the time came, Charlie wouldn’t be able to accompany the rest of the flock when it departed in the spring.
“The others left, but one other pelican stayed with Charlie,” C.M. Woolard said. “After about a week, he began flying. He circled and then took off like an airplane. We think he’s the leader in them coming back here every year.”