Unusual Behavior in Brown Pelicans Points to Trouble Ahead

A Brown Pelican, affectionately dubbed the #RallyPelican, landed in left field during the recent San Francisco Giants game, wowing fans and alarming wildlife experts.

When a wayward Brown Pelican, affectionately dubbed the #RallyPelican, landed in left field during the recent San Francisco Giants game, wowing fans, wildlife experts here at International Bird Rescue quickly recognized the underlying cause: the disoriented bird was in desperate search for food. #RallyPelican was just another example of the increasing reports of pelicans venturing into high-populated areas. Watch: NBC Bay Area sheds light on the escalating count of pelicans in rehab, featuring insights from various wildlife experts at Bird Rescue.

Since April 20, we’ve received nearly 340 starving and injured Brown Pelicans. Some of these birds were found in odd areas including a Santa Cruz bar and on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). In an effort to find food, pelicans will leave their natural habitat and risk their lives in human-populated areas. Finding birds in these locations and situations is a clear sign they may be in need of help. The public can play a crucial role in identifying when intervention is necessary and taking prompt action to help.

Two of these birds, who were previous patients during the similar Brown Pelican crisis in 2022, have unfortunately been spotted struggling during this unusual event. We know this because every Brown Pelican patient receives a special blue band in addition to their federal band before getting released to the wild. Citizen scientists help us track their progress by spotting their blue bands and submitting details on their locations on our website.

In different ways, images of pelicans banded 6C2 and 7C5 serve as examples for the public to recognize the signs indicating a bird in distress.

6C2 Found Begging on Fishing Pier

Brown Pelican banded 6C2 was sighted among other hungry pelicans approaching people at the Oceanside Harbor Fishing Pier on May 6, 2024. Photo by Lyndsay Viripaeff

While fishing piers are typically frequented by Brown Pelicans, the behaviors observed in pelican banded 6C2 suggest that she is experiencing hunger and weakness. 6C2 was last seen on May 6, 2024 at Oceanside Harbor Fishing Pier. However, this bird and the others surrounding her appear to be approaching people, hoping for a hand-out.

Birds like 6C2 who are hanging around fishing piers are getting injured as a result. Approximately one-third of the pelicans that have been admitted into care have had severe injuries, many of which are likely caused by fishing hooks and lines.

Veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr also reminds folks fishing: “If you accidentally hook a bird, please do not just cut the bird loose. The hooks cause bad infections, and the trailing line will become wrapped around limbs, cutting off circulation.”

Calmly reel the bird in and place it in a big box or dog crate. Do not attempt to remove hooks yourself as this can cause more damage if not done with the proper tools. Call your local wildlife rehabilitation center or animal control for advice on where to take the bird.

7C5 Found Lingering in Local Park

Brown Pelican banded 7C5 was sighted in Alondra Park in Lawndale, CA on April 21, 2024. Photo by Pamela Regan

The case of Brown Pelican 7C5 offers a great example of how reports on struggling birds can lead to quick action to get them into supportive care. 7C5 was discovered away from the beach, lingering at Alondra Park in Lawndale. Our BirdHelpLine received multiple calls reporting that the bird had been snapping at people when they got too close.

We attempted to contact animal control for assistance, but, unable to get an officer on the scene, Dr. Duerr took it upon herself to rescue the bird. She and Patricia Bibbins, a local who had been monitoring the bird, managed to successfully capture and transport her to Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center on April 21, 2024.

On exam, staff discovered that she had fractured her right wing and ingested a fish hook. Since her arrival three weeks ago, her injuries have healed, the hook has been removed, and her condition continues to improve each day. See if you can find her blue band in the large aviary on our live BirdCam.

Found a Pelican Who Needs Help?

Recognizing when a bird needs help isn’t always straightforward, making community education vital. By familiarizing ourselves about bird behavior and common signs of distress, individuals can play a crucial role in identifying when intervention is necessary and taking prompt action to help.

If you have found a pelican in need of care in California, our Bird HelpLine at 866-SOS-BIRD (866-767-2473). After hours, contact your local animal control office.