Betsy the Pelican retires, others audition for the role

“Is that a bird?” Passers-by on Coco Plum Beach marveled at the sight of Shannon Aument of the Marathon Wild Bird Center working with a cormorant earlier this week. She waded out in the water with it and let it flap around in the seawater. Then she waded back to shore and the bird followed.

“Absolute trust,” Aument said. “That’s our goal. The bird has to trust us completely.”

The cormorant is auditioning for the role of “education” bird — used for Marathon Wild Bird Center’s traveling exhibits at fairs and schools. Because it has limited vision in one eye, and none in the other, it cannot be released into the wild.

“Here, give him a scratch,” Aument said, offering the bird now perched on her arm, protected by a leather gauntlet. “He has to get used to people.”

The Marathon Wild Bird Center has a variety of “education” birds that will have a chance to shine now that Betsy the Pelican (once featured on a Weekly magazine cover) is ready to retire.

“The Marathon Seafood Festival was Betsy’s last public appearance,” said Kelly Grinter, executive director of the Marathon Wild Bird Center. How old is she? “Well, we know she’s at least 20 years old, but pelicans can live to be 50 years old in captivity. For all we know, she’s 48 and just not saying.”

Coming up through the ranks are a few other birds. Sweetie is an American Kestrel of Cuban descent who was raised as a pet by a well-meaning, but law-breaking, individual who deprived the migratory bird of natural survival skills. Sartore is a sandwich tern with some physical disabilities. Sartore was so named after famed National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore who recently stopped by the bird center to shoot his picture. Both of those birds are friendly and good with the public.

Bella the brown booby isn’t as good with the public (she bites), but she still makes the rounds in a traveling habitat.

“Bella likes to be out. She enjoys people watching as much as people like looking at birds,” said Grinter. “I don’t think you can train an education bird, more like feel them out for the position. Personality is key. You have to pick a bird with the right personality.”

The cormorant has yet to be named, and the experts can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl, but they are soliciting name ideas. Friend the Marathon Wild Bird Center on Facebook or email [email protected] with a suggestion.

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