Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

March 14, 2017

Intern’s Data Crunching Creates Better Understanding Of Blue-Banded Pelicans

Brown Pelican M43 sports a large, easy-to-read blue band. This bird originally came into care at Bird Rescue with a sea lion bite wound to the chest. Photo: Michael Bolte

Connor Mathews was a junior majoring in Wildlife Conservation and Ecology at the University of Nevada, Reno, when he started his internship, sponsored by the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation (HCBF), at Bird Rescue. He had already volunteered with Bird Rescue, so he was very familiar with the clinic and the birds we care for. Eager to help us with one of our ongoing, large-scale efforts, Connor chose to gather data for our Blue-Banded Pelican project (learn more), the purpose of which is to garner post-release survival and activity information on pelicans we’ve rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Connor combed through old records from over 1,200 Brown Pelicans that had been released over a seven-year period (2009–2015) and collected data on the type, location, and severity of the injuries that had brought them into our care. He also collected other significant information, such as whether the pelican had suffered from fishing hook/line-related injuries or conditions such as anemia and emaciation.

HCBF intern Connor Mathews presenting his research findings to IBR staff and volunteers and San Pedro and Wilmington community members.

The core part of the Blue-Banded Pelican project is that the pelicans we release are outfitted with a large and easy-to-read blue leg band, and the public is asked to report sightings of these banded birds through our website. Given that there were hundreds of reported sightings, Connor had his work cut out for him in trying to match each bird’s patient record with the corresponding blue-banded Brown Pelican sighting and re-sighting information. After days of data analysis, Connor arrived at many important results, but the most interesting one was the sheer number of banded birds that have been encountered and reported. We were able to follow up on many of the pelicans we had cared for, rehabilitated, and released, which allowed us to see how well many of them were doing back in the wild (check out a success story here).

Band Return Conclusions

• Pelicans that are in care for smaller amounts of time tend to survive longer after release

• Contaminated pelicans also tend to survive longer after release than pelicans with other types of major injuries

• Our Brown Pelicans that get released have the potential to travel very far distances

• However, further research needs to be done to see if our pelicans are mating in the wild

Take a look at some of Connor’s statistics:

Over 1,200 Brown Pelicans have been blue-banded, with the highest number in 2012. These numbers largely reflect the number of pelicans received for care.

Nearly one-half of all blue-banded Pelicans we released have been sighted at least once in the wild!

Does this kind of research sound interesting? If you or someone you know might like to participate in a similar project, check out the HCBF Internship Program. It’s a rewarding and unique way to boost your resume or earn college credit while learning about aquatic birds and the scientific research process. Email Jo at internships@bird-rescue.org with any questions!

About the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation

The HCBF offers community grants to organizations in San Pedro and Wilmington, California, to help mitigate the impact of local ports on these two communities. Our grant funds HCBF interns so they can learn about the effects of oil on wildlife, get hands-on experience in rehabilitating aquatic birds, and conduct research to help Bird Rescue better care for the hundreds of patients we see every year.

 

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