Wildlife rescuers are often the very first to notice unusual trends in wildlife populations. For instance, last week, when Wildlife Emergency Services (WES) received reports of adult pelicans behaving oddly.
Our first clue that something odd was going on, came to us in a report of an adult brown pelican in a busy shopping center. It flew to the Cabrillo College pool where WES responders were able to capture it.
A couple of days later, we recovered another adult brown pelican. This one was found wandering a farm field in Hollister - 23 miles inland.
Another adult brown pelican was seen at the Hollister landfill. Another clue: starving pelicans will follow gulls looking for food. Were these birds starving?
Both of the pelicans we picked up felt thin and weak, and both died.
What's most alarming, is that they were adult birds - over 3 years old. Proven survivors. So, what killed them?
Because of the unusual circumstances, we sent their bodies to the Wildlife Investigations Lab in Rancho Cordova.
We've also alerted seabird researchers and put the word out to California wildlife hospitals to be on the lookout and to keep us apprised of any unusual adult pelican intakes.
Since then, we received word that a handful of adult pelicans were admitted for care at International Bird Rescue's Southern California facility in the last week, and, on Friday, another adult brown pelican was recovered in Los Gatos, 25 miles from the Pacific.
Clearly, something is going on, and, from our experience, it looks like it's related to starvation.
In December 2008, as talks about delisting the California brown pelican from the Endangered Species List progressed, close to 500 pelicans were found dead or dying along the West Coast. A similar event occurred the subsequent year, summarized in a report, HERE. Scientists concluded both events were related to a shortage of food.
Last year, a survey of nesting brown pelicans revealed unprecedentedly few breeding pairs of California brown pelicans - read more, HERE, and, just months ago, a massive die-off of seabirds in the Pacific Northwest had scientists puzzled, and worried. Read more about that event, HERE.