A rare tropical bird that got stuck on a cargo ship and wound up in Los Angeles is flying home - but not under its own power.
The red-tailed tropicbird was cleared to fly to homeland on Midway Atoll this morning a 37-day stay at the International Bird Rescue in San Pedro.
It is traveling on a commercial flight from Los Angeles International Airport, making a stop in Honolulu before reaching its final destination Friday morning.
The bird was found on a cargo ship docked at Terminal Island, traveling from Korea. Crewmembers on the ship contacted the rescue organization to report what they thought was a heron.
When rehabilitation technicians from the International Bird Rescue drove down to pick it up, they discovered it was the red-tailed tropicbird.
“We’ll get albatrosses every once in a while, but tropic birds aren’t typically found on our coast,” said Kyle Clatterbuck, a rehabilitation technician for the International Bird Rescue. “It’s not common at all.”
"It's not unusual to have birds like this land on big boats," said Steven Kress, vice president of bird conservation at the National Audubon Society. "But on a boat like that, they have a hard time taking off."
The tropical bird was provided a comfortable home during its rehabilitation.
Clatterbuck said that once technicians were able to ensure the bird's condition was stable, it was moved from a cage and allowed to float in a pool made for water fowl.
“It was able to float in the water, able to get on the net bottom if it wanted to sit on land for a little,” said Clatterbuck. “The cage was enclosed with netting – it had good ventilation and air flow.”
Rehabilitation technicians worked to ensure the bird was healthy.
Clatterbuck said they checked the bird’s overall body conditions to make sure it wasn’t too thin. They also checked its protein levels in the blood before it was released.
Technicians also had to meet release criteria, testing the bird for Avian Flu and West Nile virus. Both tests came back negative.
Once the bird arrives in Midway, it will be met by a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agent.
“Hopefully (the bird) will fly away and start feeding,” said Clatterbuck.
So how much does a bird’s one-way flight to Midway Atoll cost?
“$104.94,” said Erica Edwards, development and communications director at International Bird Rescue.