It happened quickly, much like his recovery.
The blue animal carrier door opened and Pink, the mutilated brown pelican whose pouch was slashed open, came dashing out, wings up and taking flight for the first time since beginning recovery from the brutal attack about six weeks ago.
The small crowd who had come to witness Pink's release cheered and clapped as they watched the brown pelican fly to nearby rocks where other birds had gathered.
Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino was the one to open the metal door on the animal carrier.
As Pink took flight, one person yelled: "Thank you!"
Andrew Harmon, spokesman for International Bird Rescue, which cared for the pelican, said it was a happy day for the staff to see the bird released back into the wild.
"It brought a tear to my eye," Harmon said. "There's something symbolic about releasing a bird."
He added: "I can't seem to divert my emotions when I see it."
Pink has also changed the band around his leg from pink to blue, and has been tagged with the number V-70. Harmon said they're asking the public to report sightings of Pink at their website.
The pelican, so nicknamed for the original pink band around his leg, spent six weeks recovering at International Bird Rescue’s San Pedro facility after a bystander found the bird flopping on Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach on April 16.
It took two surgeries and 600 stitches to repair the mutilated pouch beneath the long, light brown bill.
Before the surgeries, however, temporary staples held the pelican’s pouch together that, within a few days, allowed the bird to self-feed on sardines. The organization said the bird was extremely anemic when it was discovered, mostly because of blood loss.
The pelican was given a full physical examination before being released Tuesday.
Pink’s ordeal made headlines across California and resonated with bird lovers and fellow animal advocacy organizations, spawning a $20,000 reward to find the person who slashed the pelican’s pouch. The Port of Long Beach also donated $5,000 toward the bird’s surgical and rehab needs.
Such attacks on pelicans have occurred not just in California, but in Florida and North Carolina.
The brown pelican was one of the first species to be listed as endangered, largely due to the effects of the pesticide DDT and widespread slaughter by fisherman during World War II.
But the population rebounded and the bird was removed from the endangered species list in 2009. Still, federal law makes it illegal to kill or harm migratory birds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
However, this year, Pink joins a population whose breeding numbers have dropped drastically, according to a UC Davis report released this week.
Scientists believe thousands of pelicans flocked along the Southern California coast in May in search of food, about six weeks earlier than expected. The migration pattern, which has led to low nesting rates, may indicate that an El Niño may also occur sooner than expected.
Dan Anderson, UC Davis professor emeritus and wildlife biologist, observed the pelicans in Mexico’s Gulf of California and noticed just a few hundred nesting pairs overall. And in some areas, zero pairs had arrived to nest.
“That’s what we call a failure, a bust,” Anderson said. “The bottom dropped out.”
Anderson couldn’t explain why breeding numbers were low, but he said the pelicans’ food supply and changing ocean temperatures could be factors.
Meanwhile, the reward for the person or people behind Pink's mutilation remains outstanding. Anyone with information about the attack can call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (310) 328-1516 or Long Beach Animal Control at (562) 570-7387.