The wings of the 10 other pelicans were snapped or twisted in a similar way. Their broken bones were exposed. Four of the pelican survived, but their injuries were so severe that three had to be euthanized.
The 3-year-old survivor needed a lot of help at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach.
"The last bird had a hole under its wing into its shoulder and a scrape down its wing, unable to bear weight on both legs. So it was treated with antibiotics and antiparasitics," said Lisa Birkle, Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center.
As workers nursed the pelican back to health, a reward grew to $20,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who broke the birds' wings. So far, the suspect has yet to be found.
Officials are happy to say their patient is able to stand and fly on her own. They say she is ready to return to the wild.
"If they could smile ... they were happy. They were so happy to see the ocean as soon as we got here ... and they could smell ocean. And they started struggling in the box and wanting out," said Birkle.
When first released, the pelican stayed close to shore while caretakers watched her every move. But it took only minutes for her to gain confidence.
"In seeing one bird make it, one mammal make it, one animal that we've worked on ... see them make it out there ... is what makes everybody show up for work every day," said Birkle.