Five Reasons Why We Love Brown Pelicans

Brown Pelican recovers in the large pelican aviary at Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center on July 26, 2022. Photo by Ariana Gastelum – International Bird Rescue

Brown Pelicans are undoubtedly a marvelous species. From their tremendous wings to their long bills and impressive pouches, these iconic California-coast seabirds have an otherworldly quality about them. Watching them dive into the water from as high as 65 feet is an incredible sight, and there’s no better feeling than watching a pod of pelicans soar across the sky at sunset.

The more you learn about Brown Pelicans, the more fascinating they become. At Bird Rescue, we’ve had the pleasure of treating pelicans year-round for more than 50 years. We’ve watched them overcome devastating obstacles and restore their population. We love them so much, we have one in our logo! We could give infinite reasons why we love these birds, but we managed to narrow it down to five. Here are five reasons we are a voice for pelicans.

1. Brown Pelicans used to be endangered species

Blue-banded Brown Pelican 0C0 was released April 13, 2023. Photo by Katrina Plummer

Brown Pelicans were put on the endangered species list after the use of the pesticide DDT caused catastrophic reproductive failure in the late 1960s. After 40 years of being on the precipice of extinction, Brown Pelicans were removed from the list in 2009. That same year, Bird Rescue started the Blue-Banded Brown Pelican Program to track the progress of former patients post-release.

2. Pelicans can heal from frightful injuries

As Brown Pelicans navigate a changing world, they continue to face many human-caused problems such as fishing hook and line injuries, oil pollution, and loss of coastal habitat. Sometimes these birds only need a week in rehab and they’re out the door. Others stay long-term to heal broken bones and surgery repairs. Veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr sees these cases regularly and has found inventive solutions to repair pouch lacerations, fractured wings, and more. She recently placed pins to straighten a pelican’s crooked bill, and this bird successfully healed after two months!

3. Pelicans have survived mass crises

Throughout the years, there’s been periods when our California clinics received a sudden influx of stranded Brown Pelicans by the hundreds. The most recent case was in summer 2022, when we received up to 350 weak, starving, and anemic pelicans in need of life-saving care. As of May 2023, an incredible 107 of 228 (46.9%) of our blue-banded Brown Pelicans from the stranding event have been re-sighted alive and well in the wild. Similar events have occurred in 2009, 2010, and 2012. Watch this short series of interviews with Julie Skoglund, Director of Operations, who played key roles in each of these incidents.

4. Pelicans remind us of Jay Holcomb

Jay Holcomb feeding clean Brown Pelicans in Mexico during spill response. Photo: International Bird Rescue

Former Executive Director Jay Holcomb had a special connection with pelicans. While leading Bird Rescue for nearly 25 years, Jay and his fellow rehabilitators worked hard to save pelicans during oil spills and during breeding years when fish stocks didn’t always match the number of chicks hatched. Jay’s special affinity for pelicans is something that has been near and dear to all of us at Bird Rescue who continue to care for these remarkable majestic birds.

5. Pelican patients continue to thrive after release

Every re-sighting of a healthy blue-banded Brown Pelican is a testament to our hard work. We were overjoyed to see pelican banded N89 exactly four years post-release, caring for a little pelican of her own in May 2022. Dr. Duerr’s recent scientific paper shows that Brown Pelicans can be successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild, with some demonstrating greater than expected longevity than previously estimated for the species.

Lastly, the best part about working in wildlife rehabilitation is watching recovered patients return to the wild. It makes the hard work worthwhile. Here is a compilation of some of our favorite releases in 2022. If you love pelicans as much as we do, help us bring more back to the wild.