Band together

Reporting Blue-banded Pelicans Matters

International Bird Rescue puts numbered U.S. Fish and Wildlife stainless steel bands on the legs of all of the birds we release so that they can be identified in the future and we can evaluate their survivability. We get some return visits and re-sightings of these birds, but most live in remote regions and are never seen again. To increase the chance of recognizing our former Brown Pelican patients in the wild, we have been using an additional band made of blue plastic with large white letters and numbers, which are much easier to read.

Last week, while surveying for banded birds on the outer breakwaters of the Los Angeles Harbor, we spotted about 1,000 Brown Pelicans. 20 or so had only the metal bands, which were unreadable from the boat. However, we spotted 7 of the blue bands and were able to read 6. Two of these birds, A65 and A91, were released on February 17, 2009 in San Francisco Bay. They had been part of a large Pelican crisis during which we had hundreds of soaking wet, cold and emaciated Pelicans come to our Center. Now, three years later, they are alive and well in Los Angeles. Two of the other blue-banded Pelicans were released last year, after being treated for health issues at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Center, and the remaining two were released within the past few months.

That same day, another one of our blue-banded patients, Pelican M32, was spotted at the Yolo County Landfill near Davis, California. This inland location was certainly an unusual place for a Brown Pelican to roost. M32 was first discovered in November 2011 in another strange circumstance; disoriented on Petaluma’s stretch of Lakeville Highway, she was only about 6 months old upon rescue. Young birds that land on roads like this rarely survive, but she was caught in time and released by International Bird Rescue at Moss Landing after 10 days. Now, two and half months later, this Pelican is 120 miles northeast of her release site.

So, what does this tell us? Well, Pelican M32, a first-year bird when she was originally brought to the Center, has turned up in two different abnormal Brown Pelican habitats. The 120 miles between these two sites and the nearly three months Pelican M32 has survived on her own demonstrate that she is clearly able to feed herself and fly long distances. On the other hand, this bird continues to strangely gravitate inland; Pelican M32 may not be a beggar at the local pier, but she is showing signs of disorientation.

Last year alone we released 363 rehabilitated Brown Pelicans. We put a lot of time, money and care into these amazing birds. We want to know where they go and if they survive, because the information gained from bird sightings helps us to refine our rehabilitation protocols. We will share more blue-banded Brown Pelican adventures as we receive more data.

If you see a blue-banded Pelican please report it to us! From the scene of the sighting, you can call the band number, location, and condition of the bird to 707.207.0380 ext. 7. There is also a “Report Blue-Banded Pelicans” form available online under “Found a Bird” at

Thank you for supporting this important project!

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue

A blue-banded Pelican in care at International Bird Rescue

You can help
International Bird Rescue by
reporting blue-banded Pelicans

Pelican M32 as spotted by Steve Hampton


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A Brown Booby relaxes along the breakwater at the Port of Los Angeles. Photo by Jay Holcomb

Brown Booby Sighting!

While surveying for blue-banded Brown Pelicans in Los Angeles last week we spotted a Brown Booby. While Brown Boobies occasionally show up in this area, they are considered sub-tropical birds and are rare to California. Boobies eat by plunge feeding, much like Pelicans; the difference is that Pelicans will dive into a school of small fish and scoop them up with their pouches, while Boobies target a single fish, make a powerful and impressive plunge, grab their fish and gulp it down. Lots of Pelicans were feeding on schooling fish that day, but the Booby was just sitting on the rocks in a group of cormorants and gulls, preening and relaxing – we hope with a full belly.