Bird Rescue Responds To Major Brown Pelican Crisis in California

Bird Rescue’s Kadi Erickson exams of one the 100+ Brown Pelicans in care. Photos: Ariana Gastelum – International Bird Rescue

Updated: 1:08 PM, July 1, 2022

Brown Pelicans filling our Los Angeles wildlife center.

As the number of hungry and sick California Brown Pelicans reaches nearly 330, International Bird Rescue is making an urgent call for public donations to cover the extraordinary costs associated with this pelican crisis.

Success: 100th Brown Pelican patient released [Video]

Donations can be made here: https://www.birdrescue.org/donate/

Since May 12, the nonprofit’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center has been inundated with these majestic birds. The cold and starving seabirds arrive sick and many have injuries associated with increasingly risky efforts to find food. All of them need Bird Rescue’s specialized rehabilitation skills to help them return to the wild.

Not only do these birds have voracious appetites, but many require extensive medical care to heal. The cost is $45 a day to cover food, medicine, and staff time, and Bird Rescue is spending  $2,000 on fish each day.

This is the largest influx of Brown Pelicans seen at our centers since 2012. We are now seeing Northern California pelicans in distress, we believe this is a California-wide issue.

This pelican crisis reminds us that birds in a changing world face new and challenging environmental obstacles. In this case, Bird Rescue is seeing symptoms of starvation which point to a food issue of some sort. Whatever the cause, the birds are failing to find enough to eat and taking extra risks when foraging for food. That, combined with a new crop of young pelicans having to learn to feed themselves, may explain the current influx.

Though most Brown Pelicans admitted are starving & sick, some arrived with wing fractures, fish hook inflicted wounds. Veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr working tirelessly to aid these injuries.

“We’re seeing a mix of fledglings, second-year birds, and mature adults, which makes me think it could be a food supply issue rather than a simple influx of starving fledglings”, said Dr. Rebecca Duerr, Bird Rescue’s Director of Research and Veterinary Science.

As the pelicans regain enough health to be outdoors, they are housed in Bird Rescue’s 100-foot flight aviary. The public is encouraged to watch the recovering seabirds on the Live BirdCam where they are being fed fresh fish every hour: https://www.birdrescue.org/birdcams/live-los-angeles-center/

Brown Pelicans have been impacted by large-scale perils in the past and they were added to the endangered species list in 1970 due to exposure to DDT that caused their breeding numbers to plummet. It wasn’t until 2009 that they were removed from the list. A couple years later there were similar inundations of Brown Pelican patients at Bird Rescue’s wildlife centers. The influx lasted for months as hundreds of pelicans needed care: https://www.birdrescue.org/new-update-on-brown-pelican-numbers/

“Rescue efforts like in 2010 and 2012, and the one we’re undertaking now help keep pelicans off the endangered species list,” said JD Bergeron, CEO of Bird Rescue.

“Thanks to our banding program, we recently spotted a former patient feeding its young four years after its release in the wild,” added Bergeron. “This proves that the hard work to save one bird at a time can affect future populations.”

Read more about this Brown Pelican success story here.

Since 2009, Bird Rescue has attached special blue leg bands to all released Brown Pelicans to help track them back in the wild. One pelican released four years ago and spotted recently, shows that treated seabirds can thrive back in nature. Pelican “N89” was reported feeding its young on Santa Barbara Island. Read more about this Brown Pelican success story: https://www.birdrescue.org/blue-banded-brown-pelican-n89-spotted-with-baby/

What The Public Can Do

Pelicans in trouble appear weak, listless, and are often found in unusual places. The public can help by establishing a six-foot perimeter around the bird, while calling the local animal control. In Los Angeles and Orange Counties, many of the beach cities have animal control officers that will capture pelicans and deliver them to Bird Rescue in San Pedro. Lifeguards often also have resources to help. If in doubt, contact International Bird Rescue’s Bird HelpLine at 310-514-2573.

Until this flood of birds stops, please keep an eye out for pelicans along roads or even inland away from the coast. Bird Rescue have received reports of Brown Pelicans being seen 20 miles or more from the coast.

After hours, please contact your local animal control – in Los Angeles County, many of the beach cities have animal control officers that will capture pelicans and deliver them to Bird Rescue in San Pedro, as will Marine Animal Rescue and beach lifeguards. If pelicans are found in Malibu, call California Wildlife Center at 310 458-WILD (9453). In Ventura/Santa Barbara County areas, contact the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, 805-681-1080.

Brown Pelicans are expensive birds to care for and we depend on the public for help to respond to a crisis like this – donations for food and medical supplies can be made at https://www.birdrescue.org/donate/

Bird Rescue staff help unload pelicans transported from the California Wildlife Center.
Since May 12th, sick and hungry Brown Pelicans have been streaming into Bird Rescue Los Angeles Wildlife Center.
Before release, Brown Pelicans are affixed with a special blue leg band that will help us track them back in the wild. Photo: Ariana Gastelum – International Bird Rescue
Release day: As the pelican patients gain weight and are healthy, they are released. Photo: Ariana Gastelum – International Bird Rescue