Perched high on roadside street lights or dominating the waterside, pelicans are a proud presence in the suburbs surrounding Lake Illawarra.
It broke Betty Spilsted’s heart to see one of the big birds lifeless on the lake shore at Primbee, with multiple wounds showing it had met a violent end.
"The injuries on this bird were absolutely horrendous,” said Ms Spilsted, rescue coordinator for Australian Seabird Rescue.
“Its wing had been snapped.
“Something had ripped into its face and broken its beak and shredded its pouch.
“There’s no way a bird has done that to itself. It hasn’t been hit by a boat or attacked by a fox – they don’t kill for the sake of it.”
A resident contacted Ms Spilsted after noticing the dead bird near the water’s edge at Primbee about 4.30pm Wednesday.
The bird was not there when the man passed the area 30 minutes earlier, and Ms Spilsted wonders if it was dumped after being killed at another location.
She believes a dog is responsible for the attack and is calling on owners in the area to control their animals and respect leash regulations at area beaches.
“It's illegal to have a dog outside your fence without it being on a lead – and there’s a reason for that,” she said.
“I've seen dog attacks before on Fisho’s Beach (Fisherman’s Beach) at Port Kembla.
“If dog owners drive another five minutes it’s leash-free at MM Beach.”
Ms Spilsted said pelican breeding occurred on Big Island off Hill 60. As a result, juvenile birds often landed on Fisherman’s Beach.
“Pelican’s are actually the worst parents,” she said.
“They just shoot through, so the [juveniles] follow the adults onto [the mainland]. But some aren’t strong enough to get up over that hill, so they end up on the beach.”
She cited the area surrounding The Illawarra Yacht Club as another hotspot for prohibited off-leash dog walking.
Wollongong City Council publishes a fact sheet on off-leash park areas on its website.
The dead pelican - an adult female – had an undignified send-off. “I just put it in the bag – she goes to a council tip,” Ms Spilsted said. “It shouldn’t happen at all. It’s just absolutely heartbreaking and it’s so unnecessary.”