For the Love of Pelicans

During the Cosco Busan oil spill in 2007, Jay Holcomb cares for an oiled Brown Pelican. Photo: International Bird Rescue

Jay Holcomb had a long-term love affair with pelicans. As a young man growing up in Marin County in the late 1960s, he was drawn to these bold seabirds.

“He just loved them – he thought they were amazing birds,” recalls Mark Russell, Jay’s close friend and former co-worker.

“His goal was to save as many pelicans as he could” –Mark Russell, Jay Holcomb’s close friend and former co-worker

Back then, seeing a pelican in the Bay Area was quite rare. The populations had been decimated for many years by a silent killer: DDT. The chemical pesticide had leached into the environment along the California coast – causing catastrophic loss of the birds’ breeding colonies. When pelicans ate the DDT contaminated fish, it caused the eggs laid by the birds to break before chicks could hatch. By 1970 the Brown Pelican was on the Endangered Species Act because populations of these dinosaur-looking seabirds were in free fall. In 1972, DDT was finally removed from use.

“His goal was to save as many pelicans as he could,” says Russell. “He wanted to see pelicans repopulate the Central Coast of California again.”

He got his wish. While leading International 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.

Order a Valentine for your loved ones and give pelicans a second chance. Order now

By 2009, the pelican population had rebounded and the federal government removed the species from the Endangered Species Act. Merging his passion and scientific curiosity that same year, Jay created the Blue-Banded Pelican program. In the nearly 12 years of banding every released Brown Pelican with a large,easily-readable blue band with white lettering, over 1,200+ of these dinosaur looking seabirds have gone back to the wild.

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.

To spread more love for pelicans during the month of February we are offering #PelicanLove merchandise for a limited time in our online store. Jay’s pelican artwork is featured on coffee cups, masks and more. And if you act fast, you can order a handwritten Valentine’s Day card for that special somebody in your life.

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