Pelican Crisis One Year Anniversary; Celebrating Re-sightings in the Wild

Back in May 2022 Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles wildlife center filled with hundreds of starving and injured Brown Pelicans. Photos: Ariana Gastelum – International Bird Rescue
Taylor Spiliotis with Bird Rescue, holds Brown Pelican Z18 during final exam before release in 2022.

A year ago this month, an unusual Brown Pelican stranding event swamped our wildlife center in Los Angeles. In May alone, we received 246 new pelican patients, by August the total reached 350 intakes of Brown Pelicans!

These pelican patients were in horrible condition. Many were injured, starving, and near death. A total of 19 were already dead on arrival. Thankfully, with great care we were able to nurse 69% of these seabirds back to health. Watch video

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. They have been spotted as far south in La Jolla, California, and north in Newport, Oregon. Additional sightings were reported on the Farallon Islands off San Francisco and on San Miguel Island, one of the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara in Southern California.

As International Bird Rescue’s veterinarian, one of my favorite pelican patients, who has been re-sighted since release last summer, was a male juvenile rescued in Malibu, CA on May 18, 2022. He came to Bird Rescue with several injuries from a ‘faux fish’ fishing lure that had multiple treble hooks. One tore a hole in his esophagus, another punctured his left wrist joint, and the rest of the lure was still embedded in the left side of the back of his neck. He also was contaminated with a small amount of oil. We were so busy with the tremendous flood of new birds in critical condition, all we could do for him right off the bat was give him pain medications to facilitate removal of the remaining hook, apply a temporary repair to his esophagus so he could eat, and start him on antibiotics to treat his already-festering wounds.

Brown Pelican admitted to Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles wildlife center with faux fish double treble lure that lacerated the bird’s esophagus, and caused neck and wrist abscesses. Photo by Dr Rebecca Duerr–International Bird Rescue

Once stabilized, this pelican’s wounds necessitated four separate surgical procedures, including repair of his esophagus, surgical care of two severe abscesses from the hook punctures, and placement of a drain to control the infection in the wrist. He also needed to be washed because of the oil. He was released July 24, with blue band 6C5, and was re-sighted January 24, 2023 in Oxnard, CA. Faux fish fishing lures with multiple treble hooks can cause tremendously severe wounds in wild birds, and 6C5 was super lucky in that we were able to successfully treat his multiple problems despite how busy we were with other needy pelicans.

The most recent re-sighting of our summer 2022 pelicans as of this writing is 3C4, an adult female that stranded in Los Angeles on May 20. On intake, she was about half her normal body weight, severely anemic, and freezing cold. After nearly two months in care, she was released July 15, 2022, and was recently re-sighted April 3, 2023, at Malibu Lagoon.

As wildlife rehabilitators, nothing brings more satisfaction and joy than seeing former patients thrive in the wild. None of this would be possible without public support and all the citizen scientists helping us track post treatment progress. We are deeply grateful for the community that supports our work.

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Live BirdCam from Los Angeles wildlife center

3C4 re-sighted at Malibu Lagoon April 3, 2023. Photo by Peter Huffer