A larger than normal die-off of adult brown pelicans is being recorded in Southern California. Avian experts and rehabbers
also note increased instances of ill and disoriented pelicans, including birds landing inland, being found in neighborhoods, colliding with vehicles on roads, and wandering on airport runways.
They say this disorientation indicates that something is seriously wrong with these birds, possibly of a neurological nature.
The reports of increased numbers of pelicans becoming disoriented and falling ill come from as far north as Humboldt and as far south as Baja
. A few local birds also have now been reported, according to the California Wildlife Center.
Sick birds from along the Southland
coast that are able to be transported are being taken to the International Bird Rescue Research Center in San Pedro, which specializes in their care.
“As wildlife rehabilitators
, we’re often the first group of people to see a trend developing. We’re the first to notice unusual behavior or illnesses in a population because we’re on the front lines, receiving calls from the public. So, with these pelicans, we know something is going on, we’re just not sure what it is,” said Jay Holcomb, the executive director of the IBRRC
“This type of disorientation in adult pelicans is something we’d see during a domoic
acid outbreak, but we have yet to see them exhibiting the other common symptoms,” Holcomb added.
Late Thursday afternoon, IBRRC
received results from initial tests that indicate some levels of domoic
acid in the pelicans. Although three out of the six birds tested positive for DA, experts cannot definitively conclude that the neurotoxin is the primary cause of the widespread illness.
Samples of phytoplankton collected recently from the waters from Santa Barbara to Newport Beach were also tested. with five out of 14 samples indicating low concentrations of DA.
These are the first of many test results expected, according to the group. Additional blood and tissue samples are being tested, and IBRRC
anticipates more information within the next two weeks.
“We are very appreciative of the rapid test results from the Dave Caron Lab at USC
. We believe these results are significant, but do not explain all the signs we are seeing in the pelicans. We are seeing a number of conditions that are not typical of domoic
acid toxicity, or a domoic
acid event. Therefore, we are continuing to collect and test samples, keeping an open mind and considering all possibilities,” said Heather Nevill
Adding to the concern of the nonprofit group is the expense of caring for the large birds. Holcomb said, “Last year’s figure is staggering. It cost the San Pedro center over $30,000 to feed the pelicans it saw through rehabilitation in 2008.”
Starting 2009 off with 40 pelicans under treatment, and more being admitted daily, the organization worries about its ability to treat them all.
“We will not be able to care for all of these birds unless we receive the financial support to do so,” Holcomb said. “We’re relying on contributions from the public to help see these birds through recovery.”
Becoming a Pelican Partner is one way a group or individual can assist financially, as well as become personally involved in a pelican’s care and release.IBRRC
also hopes to encourage schools to take part in the effort with its new Classroom Partners adoption program. For $300, a class of students can facilitate a specific bird’s release back into the wild.
Those interested in contributing to the cost of caring for the pelicans during the health crisis can send checks to IBRRC
, P. O. Box 2816, San Pedro, CA 90731. Donations also can be made online.
For information about volunteering, contact the center at 310-514-2573.
To report dead pelicans, use the toll-free California Wildlife Hotline
866-WILD-911, option 2.
More information is available at www.ibrrc.org