Jul 11, 2012

Starving young pelicans

July 10th, a young pelican stranded in the Santa Cruz mountains.

The brown pelican, the smallest of the 8 pelican species, is unique in that it is a plunge diver - it hunts in flight, scanning waters for shimmering reflections of schooling fish. 

In California, they prey mostly on northern anchovy, Pacific sardine, and Pacific mackerel.

Each year, California brown pelicans migrate north from their breeding grounds in Mexico and the offshore islands of southern California.

Anacapa, one of the Channel Islands, has historically maintained the largest colony in California. 
The Chumash  people knew the island as 'Pi awa phew' - 'house of the pelican'.

At one time, the breeding range of the California brown pelican extended as far north as Point Lobos, near Monterey, but there has been no nesting activity on Bird Island since 1959, which, interestingly, coincided with the last significant year for the Monterey sardine fishery.

Young pelicans fledge when they are about 3-4 months old. While some remain close to home, others follow adults on their northward journey. In the last two weeks, we've seen an unusually high number of these young migrants in trouble

Up and down the coast, hundreds of young California brown pelicans are being found, thin and weak - starving to death.

Until now, we did not believe there was a shortage of food for them, but there is, at least in the Monterey Bay.

A tired baby with its head tucked in.
Rescued by Ron Eby at Elkhorn Slough Reserve.
According to a seafood supplier in Moss Landing, there is a shortage of baitfish in local waters - there hasn’t been any volume of Northern anchovy or Pacific sardine in the region since February.

Thankfully, we're not finding any starving adult pelicans. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps they're finding fish farther out at sea.

We know pelican breeding success is directly related to the availability of food. During nesting, a reduction in their food source can force abandonment of eggs - even chicks. 
We also know to expect a high mortality of young, even when food is plentiful, but, for there to be nothing for them in the Monterey Bay, an important stopover, seems odd.

A young pelican found dead in a backyard in Santa Cruz, CA.

Is it climate change? Is it human-related? Should we intervene?

Wildlife biologists are still considering this mortality event a natural die-off - the culling of the weakest individuals. If so, we must respect natural selection as we risk doing a species more harm by meddling.

That said, for now, the region's wildlife hospitals are continuing to accept the young pelicans, and WildRescue continues to respond and transport those in critical need.

Below is a video of one such rescue. The pelican landed inland near a large koi pond in the Santa Cruz mountains.

The public can report ailing pelicans through our statewide hotline at 1-866-WILD-911 (1-866-945-3911). 
They should note if it's a juvenile or adult. Young birds can be distinguished from adult pelicans by their brown heads, white bellies, and creamy, yellow-grey legs.

To help us respond to sightings, we desperately need more volunteers in and around the Bay Area, from Monterey to San Francisco! Be on-call from home or office - click HERE for an application. Many thanks to those who have already contributed to our 
Pelican Aid fund, HERE.

Donate $100.00 or more and receive this beautiful 8 X 10 black and white photograph. 


Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you're doing what you can for the critters. There's a special place in Heaven for wildlife rescuers; I know--we've brought lots of injured or homeless critters to our local rehabilitators & shelters. Keep up the good work, & give the birds an extra hug from us over in NH. - Dianne & Gene

Avifan said...

Here Here! This is a sad story- thanks for helping make it happier for individual pelicans!