Blue-banded Brown Pelican M38 Sighted in Breeding Colony off Southern California Coast

Photo credit: Chris Berry of CIES, 2018, Channel Islands, CA

It isn’t often that we receive reports of our banded birds on breeding colonies, especially considering the colonies are typically in remote and sometimes, protected areas.  However, these locations are commonly monitored by biologists where they track nest locations, chick counts, breeding pairs, etc.

Just last summer, we received a blue-banded Brown Pelican sighting report of previous Bird Rescue patient, E17 on a nesting colony in Baja California.  We are very excited to report that a second blue-banded Brown Pelican has been spotted in a breeding colony near a nest of chicks in March of this year!  In the photo, by Chris Berry of the California Institute of Environmental Studies (CIES), M38 was spotted in post-breeding/chick feeding plumage alongside two Brown Pelican chicks.  The photo was taken on Santa Barbara Island located in the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California.

Photo credit: Chris Berry of CIES, 2018, Channel Islands, CA

M38 was a patient of ours in 2011. While in care, the bird’s bill was measured to determine the sex and the plumage was evaluated to determine the age. Based on this information, we knew we were working with an adult (at least 3-4 years old), male Brown Pelican at the time of admission. He came to us with severe emaciation, hypoproteinemia, and anemia in addition to weakness, bruising and abrasions on the legs, and pressure lesions on the feet, indicating he had been in poor condition for quite some time.  With treatment at our SF Bay Wildlife Center in Fairfield, CA, he recovered quickly, more than doubling his red blood cell fraction and adding about 50% of his original weight. After his release in Alameda, CA in late 2011, he was spotted one other time in early 2015 at Moss Landing, CA as captured in a stunning portrait by Josh Whaley.  As of now, M38 would be at least 10 years old.

For almost 40 years from 1970 to 2009, Brown Pelicans were listed as an endangered species due to severely declining populations and even local extinction in some areas as a result of pesticides, such as DDT, that caused eggshell thinning. Thankfully, the EPA banned the use of DDT in 1972 and a recovery program for California Brown Pelicans was approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1983.  In Southern California prior to the ban, the majority of this DTT was dumped over the course of 30 years by the Montrose Chemical Corporation along the coasts of San Pedro, CA and Santa Catalina Island.  More recently, in 2011, a settlement was reached that established funding for restoration and monitoring projects for numerous seabird species known to nest on offshore islands along the Baja and California coasts.

Photo credit: Josh Whaley, 2015, Moss Landing, CA

We are happy to see M38 doing so well and are greatly appreciative of the report submitted by CIES.  While our two organizations work on very different aspects of saving a once declining population, our efforts complement each other in the long-term goals of re-establishing healthy, breeding populations of California Brown Pelicans. Jim Howard, Seabird Lead at CIES, has kindly shared a few comments about their monitoring project that lead to the sighting of M38:

“California Institute of Environmental Studies (CIES; has been involved in monitoring the California Brown Pelican nesting colonies at Anacapa and Santa Barbara Island, California since 1976. Currently, our work with this species is focused on monitoring the nest numbers and productivity (chicks fledged per nest) on these two islands. Once every 3-4 weeks our staff visits the colonies, and counts attending adults and occupied nests, recording the numbers and ages of pelican chicks seen in nests. Scanning the colony with spotting scopes and binoculars gives us the ability to observe interesting behaviors and record incidental data such as color banded pelicans.”

To learn more about our banding program and how to report a banded bird, please visit us at: