Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pelicans Starving?

A couple weeks ago, I posted about the extraordinary number of suffering Brown Pelicans that have been washing up on California's beaches this winter. The state's wildlife agencies now have an answer: food supplies are low.

The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) is reporting that the primary causes of the recent Brown Pelican mass stranding (involving varying degrees of incapacitation of hundreds of birds) along the Oregon and California Coast are related to shortages of preferred prey items, such as anchovies and sardines, and rough winter weather likely related to the current El Niño event.

CDFG, the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, Sea World San Diego and the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) pooled their efforts to determine the causes for the bird deaths and strandings, and ruled out infectious disease and marine toxins as major contributory factors. Some pelicans have had waterproofing problems with their feathers, possibly related to storm runoff from recent heavy coastal rains.
The IBRRC is caring for 300 birds right now, but at least the number of new patients is decreasing. Sick pelicans have responded well to treatment (mainly washing and feeding), and the center has been releasing rehabilitated pelicans in batches. (As of February 19th, 200 pelicans had been released.) I do not see anything about the CDFG announcement yet, but the IBRRC blog is a good place to check for updates on the pelicans.