Yep, that’s our pelican, alright.
You remember Percy. He’s the American White Pelican who was spotted in Rock River backwaters in East Moline a couple of years ago, flapping his giant wings but going nowhere.
Art Norris was worried sick about the hurt bird, because he drove past the waterway every day and could plainly see it was getting sicker. When he saw coyotes running along the shoreline, hoping to feed on the animal, Norris could take no more.
In mid-November 2008, as the waterway was on the verge of freezing and the pelican on the verge of dying, Norris and a collection of helpers with a boat and nets captured the giant bird. A veterinarian diagnosed a damaged wing, and Norris spent the next six months nursing the pelican back to health.
He named him Percy.
And now Percy’s story has been made into a children’s book by first-time Moline author Arlene Rundle. Illustrated by recent Augustana College graduate Jeffrey Chin, the book is more than a mere chronicle of an injured animal’s capture, care and release.
“Percy the Lone Pelican,” at its core, is a love story.
“I was drawn like a magnet to this story when I read the articles in the paper,” Rundle said. “It captured my heart. I thought to myself, ‘Little kids have to know this story. They need to know about nature beyond the city limits.’
“Maybe most importantly, kids learn that pelicans have feelings.”
How else could Percy have bonded so thoroughly with Norris and his English springer spaniel, Rocky?
When Norris first took him home to the garage he’d fitted with a cage, wading pool and live-fish trough, Percy was suspicious. He bit Norris and was reluctant to eat the donated fish he plopped into the pool.
In no time at all, though, Percy’s personality changed. He became excited when Norris entered the garage and began to pace, waiting for the chance to poke his considerable beak through his cage and hold Norris’ hand.
Percy threw minnows into the air and caught them, as if showing off. When Norris’ dog, Rocky, lay next to his cage, the pelican used his beak to scratch Rocky’s back.
They were quite a trio — man, dog and pelican. When it came time to set Percy free, it seemed even Rocky had a lump in his throat.
Their story produced another unlikely partnership when Rundle asked for illustration samples from art departments at local colleges. When the 71-year-old saw the first drawing of Percy by 23-year-old Chin, she knew she had her artist.
Rundle’s son and daughter-in-law, Kelly and Tammy Rundle, were on board to produce the book — from editing to publication — and they instantly agreed that Chin’s talent was a perfect fit. Well, almost perfect.
“When I turned in my first sample illustration, Percy looked more like a stork, and they made me redo the character design,” Chin said. “But now pelicans have a special meaning to me, and I’m sure I’ll think of Percy every time I see one.”
Rundle knew quite a bit more about pelicans and most birds, in fact, because she’s been a lifelong animal lover. The fact she never met Percy is her only regret about the book, she said.
“I did meet Art Norris, and I have such respect for what he did for Percy,” she said. “I loved that pelican, and I never met him, so I have an idea of how attached to him Art must have been.”
Sadly, shortly after Percy’s release, Norris’ beloved Rocky was killed in an accident.
“You know what, though?” Rundle asked. “Percy and Rocky will live on in this book forever.”
Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or firstname.lastname@example.org.