Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

January 6, 2009

What’s causing fatigued pelicans to drop from sky?

The ongoing discovery of scores of fatigued and disoriented California Brown Pelicans is causing concern among biologists and bird lovers, but yielding few concrete answers to what’s causing their condition.

Since late in December, the giant seabirds have been found in frail condition along highways and backyards, miles from their coastal homes. At both IBRRC bird centers, but especially at the San Pedro center, we’ve had our hands full treating these remarkable birds. There are almost 50 pelicans in care this week alone.

Writer Louis Sahagun and photographer Mark Boster of the Los Angeles Times collaborated to capture the concern for these pelicans:

Wildlife rescuers from San Diego to San Francisco suddenly are facing a distressing biological mystery: Disoriented and bruised California brown pelicans are landing on highways and airport runways and in farm fields, alleys and backyards miles from their normal coastal haunts.

In the last week, the big brown birds known for flying in formation over beaches have been reported wobbling across Culver Boulevard in Playa del Rey and on a Los Angeles International Airport runway. Two dead pelicans were found on the 110 Freeway. Elsewhere, one smacked into a car.

See: California brown pelicans found frail and far from home

View: The LA Times photo gallery

Learn how you can help us care for these birds: Adopt-a-Pelican

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3 Responses to “What’s causing fatigued pelicans to drop from sky?”

  1. Abby Kingston Says:

    Could there be a clue to the California crisis in looking at the death of Browns in Puerto Rico dying while trying to swallow a spiny exotic fish that has become established here, and is commercially bred for its use as an algae gleaner in aquariums?

    “Dozens of pelicans in Puerto Rico have been documented to have died while trying to swallow the South American Sailfin Armored Catfish, an escaped aquarium fish native to South America.” (From PUERTO RICO’S BIRDS IN PHOTOGRAPHS By Mark W. Oberle)

    “The sailfin armored catfish, Liposarcus
    multiradiatus (Hancock) [until recently Pterygoplichthys
    multiradiatus (Hancock)], has
    also been called the radiated ptero (Page
    and Burr, 1991) and the sailfin catfish (Robins
    et al., 1991). This fish is native to Venezuela
    ( Weber, 1991 ), although various authors
    have erroneously noted it from
    Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana, Paraguay and Peru.
    It is similar to suckermouth catfishes (Hypostomus
    spp.), but has a larger dorsal fin
    with one spine and 10– 12 soft rays, a granular
    edge on the snout, and a last dorsal
    ray which is connected at the base to the
    following bony plate by a small membrane.
    The sailfin armored catfish grows to
    a length of 70 cm (Page and Burr, 1991). It
    has become an established exotic in Broward,
    Dade, Hillsborough and Palm Beach
    Counties in Florida and on the island of
    Oahu, Hawaii (Ludlow and Walsh, 1991)”;
    and
    “This fish is being commercially reared
    for the aquarium fish trade in at least one
    farm in Puerto Rico, and a small-scale seine
    fishery exists in the streams around San
    Juan Burr, 1991; Robins et al., 1991).”
    (From Caribbean Journal of Science, Vol. 30, No. 1 -2, 90-94, 1994
    Copyright 1994 College of Arts and Sciences
    University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez
    The South American Sailfin Armored Catfish,
    Liposarcus multiradiatus (Hancock), a New Exotic
    Established in Puerto Rican Fresh Waters
    LUCY BUNKLEY-WILLIAMS ,1 ERNEST H. WILLIAMS , JR.,1 CRAIG G. LILYSTROM ,2
    IRIS CORUJO -FLORES ,2 ALFONSO J. ZERBI,3 CATHERINE ALIAUME ,3
    AND TIMOTHY N. CHURCHILL4
    1Caribbean Aquatic Animal Health Project, Department of Marine Sciences,
    University of Puerto Rico, P.0, Box 908, Lajas, Puerto Rico 00667-0980
    ‘Scientific Investigation Section, Department of Natural Resourcesr San Juan, Puerto Rico 00906-5887
    3Tarpon-Snook Project, North Carolina State University,
    Fisheries Research Laboratory, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico 00681-3665
    4Department of Zoology, North Carolina State University,
    Raleigh, North Carolina 27695-7617)

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I was driving down the 101 freeway at Seacliff between Santa Barbara and Ventura last Saturday and I saw a live cormorant wandering around on the side of the freeway.
    I wanted to help it but that part of the freeway was too dangerous to stop. I thought the information might help add some clues to the mystery. I had never seen a seabird wandering on the side of the freeway before.

  3. Bmac Says:

    I saw a dead pelican on El Matador in Malibu this past Saturday. I hope we can determine the cause of this. It’s really sad.

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