Pete the Pelican a most unconventional bird

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Pete the Pelican makes himself at home aboard Michael Max's boat anchored in Skull Creek. PHOTO BY MICHAEL MAX

What would you do if an injured pelican landed on your boat? If you're local boater Michael Max, you save its life and name it Pete.

Pete the Pelican, named after the pelican from the movie "Flipper," landed on Max's boat with severely frostbitten and infected feet about four months ago. Malnourished from the inability to hunt for its own fish, Pete was in desperate need of a helping hand.

Luckily, Max was quick to act, with some bait fish from his fridge and an antibiotic foot rub. With Max's care, Pete began recovering, despite losing an inch off each toe.

Now, Pete is a perfectly healthy pelican, he just has shorter feet than most.

Pete has made Max's boat, anchored in Skull Creek about three-quarters of mile from Skull Creek Marina, something of a vacation home. He visits nearly every day to sit and watch the kayakers row by, or snag some free fish.

"Every morning he'll knock on the back door, come inside, and then knock on the fridge," Max said. "If he sees me running back and forth from the marina, he tries to land on my head and tag along because he knows he's going to get his fish."

Pete comes and goes from Max's boat, sharing the space with Max, his wife and their five cats, a situation Max describes as "having six captains and two crew."

The cats and Pete get along well, completely content with hanging out on the boat together. It's not all fun and games though. Pelicans can eat up to four pounds of food a day, and it doesn't all stay in.

"People don't usually like pelicans because they poop everywhere," Max said, "but you learn to deal with it."

Pete's unusual behavior is certainly strange, but make no mistake, Pete is no pet. He is allowed to freely come and go as he pleases, and when he does come, he's easy to spot, with his perpetual bad-hair day and his too-short feet.

Max believes that Pete's condition stemmed from climate change, which confused pelicans and caused them to migrate farther north than they should, upwards towards the Chesapeake Bay. The cold temperatures up north, combined with the long journey back south, could lead to unfortunate scenarios for other pelicans, especially the younger ones who don't know any better.

Max himself has lived a storied life of taming stingrays, raising hedgehogs, piranhas and pythons, and is the first to jump into the water with a camera after sharks. Before moving to Hilton Head, he spent 18 years in the Canary Islands, running a dive school.

It sounds like Pete couldn't have picked a better companion.

Sam Posthuma of Bluffton is a freelance writer and production assistant for The Hilton Head Sun.

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