Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Posts Tagged ‘California’

June 4, 2011

Fledgling Pelicans Need a Second Chance

Large numbers of fledgling California Brown Pelicans are flocking to International Bird Rescue. In the last few days we have received over 75 young, weak, and starving pelicans between our Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Centers. These birds are landing in schoolyards, at restaurants and on highways – sometimes even following people – in an attempt to find food. Why is this happening? It is important to understand a few things about Brown Pelicans in California.

Brown Pelicans begin nesting as early as January on the Channel Islands off of Southern California, the northernmost nesting colony for this species. By April, the fledglings begin to leave their nests to join the adult birds in the ongoing quest for food that takes them up the coast of California. Some years produce low numbers of chicks and some produce many, depending on food availability and the number of successful nesting adults. 2011 appears to be a strong year for chick rearing.

Like all species, pelican populations experience natural selection. It is estimated that up to 80% of the annual chick population will die as part of the natural selection process. The birds that find food on their own have a good chance of surviving while the ones that do not will perish relatively quickly after leaving the nest; the pelicans that our Centers are currently receiving are all starving.

In recent years, the government has announced that the California Brown Pelican population has fully recovered from the impact of the DDT that depleted their population over 50 years ago. They were subsequently removed from the endangered species list, and are considered to be a recovered species. That is a conservation success story, but now, the Brown Pelican is facing different obstacles that challenge its survival. Oil spills, ocean pollution, domoic acid poisoning, climate change and fishing tackle entanglements take countless numbers of these birds. These losses are not a part of natural selection, they are all man-made.

International Bird Rescue receives up to 600 Brown Pelicans annually and 40% of those come to us because of fishing line entanglements. These are just the ones who make it to us, not those who, for example, are lost at sea. Man-made impacts do not naturally select the weaker birds from the population, they hit any creature in their path. Many of the birds entangled in fishing tackle are adult breeding-age birds, and the genetic pool that should secure the future of the species.

We have had sightings of some of the birds rehabilitated at our centers years later, identified by their leg bands. These sightings are significant, as they imply that giving birds a second chance really works. The way we look at it is that we lose many pelicans to the threats like fishing tackle and ocean pollution, but the young birds that are rehabilitated help to fill in the vacant slots of those lost to modern-day threats.

Rehabilitating fledgling pelicans is not difficult, but it is costly. They come to us dehydrated and weak from starvation, but if we can give them a healthy and plentiful diet of fish (from 5 to 10 pounds a day per pelican), and aviaries where they can exercise, bathe and feed, then they thrive. Once they have gained weight back, they are released into a pelican feeding or roosting area where they can continue to learn to hunt for food on their own.

They are then on their own once more – to make it or not.

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue

August 19, 2009

25th California Coastal Cleanup Day is Sept 19th

If you love the beach, here’s your chance to give something back by taking something away: Help cleanup your local beach this coming September 19th at the California Coastal Cleanup Day.

The cleanup day has been hailed by the Guinness Book of World Records as “the largest garbage collection” (1993). Since the program started in 1985, over 800,000 Californians have removed more than 13 million pounds of debris from our state’s shorelines and coast.

The 25th Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day is Saturday, September 19, 2009 from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm.

Check out the county by county contact page: Map here

More info: http://www.coastal.ca.gov/publiced/ccd/ccd.html

May 23, 2009

$40,000 reward to catch condor shooters

Following the deaths of two endangered California Condors this year, a group is offering a $40,000 reward to help find the shooters.

The Center for Biological Diversity this week began distributing wanted posters offering the reward in hopes of finding those responsible for the shooting of the rare birds in the Central and Northern California.

“It’s important to take this campaign directly to these communities,” said Adam Keats, the center’s urban wildlands director. “In these hard economic times we believe that word of the $40,000 reward will travel fast and loosen lips, hopefully leading to a break in the case.”

One of the condors was poisoned by ingesting lead ammunition used by game hunters in the area of Pinnacles National Monument near Salinas, CA.

The California Condor is a stunning vulture that can live up to 50 years. With its 10 foot wing span, it is the largest North American land bird.

The full text of the center’s press release is available online.

San Francisco Chronicle: Search is on for California condor shooters

You can also download the wanted posters in English: http://tinyurl.com/condortip or in Spanish: http://tinyurl.com/condortip2.

April 16, 2009

High winds causing Cormorant strandings?

A notable spike in patients has local marine bird rescuers puzzled. In the last two days, International Bird Rescue Research Center in Northern California has received 13 stranded marine birds, mosty Brandt’s cormorants. Eleven more of the snake-necked birds are expected to arrive from San Jose, CA this afternoon.

Another oddity is that many were found in Bay Area parking lots and on roads when they should be found on beaches or jetties.

For these specialists in aquatic bird rehabilitation, a higher than normal number of patients always signifies a greater problem, as was the case this winter with the scores of ailing pelicans.

While it is premature to say exactly why so many of these birds are falling ill, Jay Holcomb, director of the aquatic bird facility believes the recent high winds may have contributed to the strandings.

This speculation that unusual weather or climate change may be impacting sea birds is supported by recent word from Farallon Islands researchers that the Brandt’s cormorants have not started nesting, as they should. The atypical winds, choppy seas, and sparse zooplankton may be the reason.

Last year researchers reported the smallest breeding population of Brandt’s with the lowest reproductive success in twenty years. Researchers hope this is not the sign of another colony failure.

The birds in convalescence are being treated for superficial wounds and are doing well. The rescue organization is asking for help from the public in reporting birds that appear injured or stranded and donations to help cover the cost of their care.

For rescues people are urged to call the California wildlife hotline at 866-WILD-911 for the nearest rescuer.

News reports:

KTVU-2: High Winds May Be Injuring Cormorants

CBS-5: High Winds Pose Threat To Sea Bird Nesting

February 11, 2009

California Brown Pelicans in distress: Event update

^Brown Pelican feet suffering from frostbite (IBRRC photo)

From Jay Holcomb, IBRRC’s exceutive director:

I would like to provide you with an overview of what we know about the recent California Brown Pelican event that began in mid-December 2008 and slowed down in the last week or so.

I wish we were able to point to a single “smoking gun” but we are not. Instead I will provide you with what we know and what we don’t know and, like us, let you make your own decisions. One thing is for sure, this was an unusual event and there remain unanswered questions that we will pursue throughout the following months.

IBRRC received about 200 California Brown Pelicans between our two rehabilitation centers in San Pedro (Southern California) and Fairfield/Cordelia (Northern California) centers. Approximately 60 of them are still in rehabilitation and we have released over 75 already. We will provide the mortality and released numbers for a later date when all the birds are gone. Approximately 75% of these birds were what we call mature birds. That means that they are at least 3 years of age. This is when they get their “adult” plumage. The rest are a mixture of juvenile birds. Over 500 reportings of sick, dying and disoriented birds have been logged also.

Related: State moves Pelican off Endangered Species List

When we began to get calls about brown pelicans in distress in mid-December we noticed a few things that we had not experienced in all the years we have been rehabilitating brown pelicans:

1) Most of the birds reported were adults. It is not that unusual for IBRRC to see confused and inexperienced juveniles sometimes do silly things like land on roads etc. but typically not experienced and “proven” adults.

2) Many were acting disoriented, landing on highways, roads, airport runways, in yards, many miles inland, in higher altitudes and hiding under piers and in corners of coastal parking lots. When we usually get sick or injured brown pelicans they are most often found on beaches or near the water somewhere like fishing docks etc. and their problems are often visual like injuries or dehydrated appearance. So, their sporadic behavior in this event clued us in to something unusual happening.

3) Many of them were thin and in a weakened state.

4) We had never had a situation like this in mid-winter with brown pelicans.

5) Many had what appeared to be frost bite on their feet. (see pictures)

These were the clues that encouraged us to take action, contact the renowned pelican biologists; the media and our colleagues who could help provide some insight to why this occurred. We sent blood samples from some of the Southern California pelicans to the Dave Caron Lab at the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California. We also send bodies of freshly diseased pelicans to the California Department of Fish & Game and The USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

Here is what we know so far:

1) The pelicans were negative for avian influenza.

2) The pelicans were negative for West Nile virus.

3) They did not have significant bacterial growth and no virus was evident. That would rule out anything that could be considered infectious at this time.

4) The necrotic tissue on feet and pouches is likely due to frostbite and not viral or bacterial in nature. These problems are most likely a result of a large number of birds getting caught in the cold snap that hit Oregon and Washington around Christmas.

5) Some of the birds in San Pedro did show low levels of domoic acid. From Dave Caron’s email, “we’ve now looked at samples from a total of 18 brown pelicans. Four were positive for domoic acid, but not at levels that we have seen during previous years during very toxic DA events in local waters. Our data continue to support our previous conjecture that domoic acid is playing a secondary, not primary, role in the present brown pelican mortality event.”

6) So far, histology to look for chronic domoic acid lesions have not shown anything unusual or evident.

7) If we get the birds in time they respond well to immediate fluid and nutritional therapy and as pelicans usually do in rehab, they eat well and gain their weight back.

So, some answers but still no smoking gun. There has been a lot of conjecture on what this is ultimately all about. We do know that California Brown Pelicans will travel north throughout California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia in the summer months and usually begin to head back south in large numbers in October. This year an estimated 4,000 or so brown pelicans stayed in Oregon and Washington until December when the very cold snap came. The weather changed drastically and quickly and, although not proven, is likely what caused the frostbite that we saw in a number of birds. This has occurred on the east coast in the past and birds have suffered similar problems with their feet and pouch.

They began moving south in large numbers very quickly and it’s likely that a mixture of cold weather, the physical stress of an immediate weather induced migration and possibly the reduction of fish due to water temperature changes could have all contributed to this event.

This still does not explain the disoriented behavior of many of these birds and that leads us to believe that there may be something else going on that we don’t know. As I said before, we are still looking at the situation more in depth and will report if and when we find any answers.

However, the question remains: Why did so many birds stay north longer than usual and why did the weather change so drastically, so quickly? Given the reports around the world of dramatic and unusual climate changes it is not inappropriate to connect this phenomenon to climate change but again, the science to support that hypothesis 100% is still not in so, again, its just a theory.

Our deepest gratitude to everyone who supported IBRRC’s efforts to care for these birds and our colleagues who helped capture, transport birds and those provided their medical and scientific expertise in an attempt to gain some answers.


Jay Holcomb
Director, IBRRC

Previous postings

Media steps up reports on Brown Pelican crisis

What’s causing fatigued pelicans to drop from sky?

February 11, 2009

Another wake up call: Global warming and birds

If you’ve been on the fence regarding global warming, here’s a sobering Audubon California report that should move you to some sort of action.

The study released Tuesday finds that California will lose significant numbers of its native birds as the continuing shifts in climate change quickly shrinks the range and habitat of more than 100 species. See Audubon website

According to the report:

Climate change is already pushing species globally poleward and higher in elevation. In California, directional changes in climate during the 20th century were substantial. Throughout this period, and in the centuries before, California also experienced cyclical changes as a result of a weather pattern known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation4. Hence, bird species in California have managed to survive various forms of past climate change, often by shifting their distributions around the state. But will they be able to continue to respond to future changes of a much larger magnitude?

Two factors argue that they will not. The first is that our current network of protected lands was not designed to buffer species, communities, and whole ecosystems against large-scale processes like climate change. The second is that the major climate variables influencing species’ distributions are expected to change so quickly that even highly mobile species like birds will be unable to keep pace. Hence, future climate change threatens California’s birds with massive range reductions and, in extreme cases, statewide extirpations and global extinctions.

These dire predictions are based on models of future climates, and serve as a companion to a nation-wide Audubon Society study. Using data collected over the past 40 years, that study concluded that 177 bird species in the U.S. are spending the winter farther north because of a warming world.

In California, scientists worry that the quickly warming climate might not only force certain species to move northward, but wipe out others that are not quick to adapt.

At IBRRC our observation and treatment of sick Brown Pelicans these last two months seems to support our concerns. In fall 2008, Pelicans spent longer in the north where fish stocks seem to be more plentiful. When the weather changed quickly in Oregon and Washington, they got stuck in freezing temperatures and fled south. Some got off course and other died in route. Over 200 ended up being treated at our California bird centers. See: Update on California Brown Pelicans in distress

All is not lost. The study suggests that if we can significantly curb our output of greenhouse gas emissions (cars, factories) and invest in conservation (walk, bus, bike, invest in a lower wattage footprint) we can greatly reduce the damage.

Come on folks, this is not a drill. Our health, planet and bird’s lives depend on us to get off our butts!

Read: Curbing greenhouse gas emissions will reduce future California bird loss (PDF download)

February 9, 2009

State moves Pelican off Endangered Species List

On February 5, 2009, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to remove the Brown Pelican from the list species considered to be endangered by the State of California.

This marks the first endangered species that has ever been deemed by the state to have recovered. The delisting and acknowledgement of success with this species is a significant conservation achievement for California, the United States and all involved.

We at IBRRC are delighted that their numbers have rebounded and their appearance along our coast is once again a common occurrence. However, we remain apposed to this delisting as the California Brown Pelican. As an indicator species, this pelican is still highly vulnerable to oil spills, domoic acid events, exposure to botulism at the Salton Sea and the constant pollution that they encounter on a daily basis.

To make matters worse, pelicans are also frequent victims of fishing tackle entanglements, direct cruelty situations, changes in food supply (fish), mysterious situations like the recent events during the last few months.

We believe that it was premature to delist this species until their population has time to mature as a population and fully reestablish itself fully within its range.

In the 1960s Brown Pelicans nearly went extinct due to the use of DDT, a pesticide. During that time biologists discovered the only remaining colony of California brown pelicans nesting on the Anacapa Islands (off Southern California) weren’t successfully reproducing. In 1970, there were 550 nests and only one chick survived; the California Brown Pelican was put on the federal Endangered Species list.

See: Endangered Brown Pelicans face uncertain future

January 8, 2009

Media steps up reports on Brown Pelican crisis

More news reports are coming out, some with humourous images (right) about the current brown pelican crisis in California. Currently there are 75 pelicans in care at IBRRC’s two bird centers:

PELICANS suffering from a mysterious malady are crashing into cars and boats, wandering along roadways and turning up dead by the hundreds across the West Coast, from southern Oregon to Baja California, Mexico, bird rescue workers say.

Weak, disoriented birds are huddling in people’s yards or being struck by cars. More than 100 have been rescued along the California coast, according to the International Bird Rescue Research Center in San Pedro.

Hundreds of birds, disoriented or dead, have been observed across the West Coast.

“One pelican actually hit a car in Los Angeles,” said Rebecca Dmytryk of Wildrescue, a bird rescue operation. “One pelican hit a boat in Monterey.”

From the Daily Telegraph in Australia: See Full story


Scientific American: Mystery: Why are California Brown pelicans dying in droves?

National Geographic: VIDEO: Mystery Pelican Die-Off in California

Fox-35 TV: Brown Pelican Mystery Intensifies As Deaths Increase

KSBW-TV: Rash Of Sick Pelicans Found Along Coast

AP: Increase of sick brown pelicans baffles experts

How to help


Donate to IBRRC

Volunteer at IBRRC

Your help and words of encouragement are always appreciated!

December 29, 2008

"Drill, baby, drill" mantra to have its way off coast?

The Bush administration is reviving a 1980s plan to open Northern California coastal waters to offshore oil drilling, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. >>>>>>>>>> See: Map of California coast >>>>>

Read: Drillers eye oil reserves off California coast

Both of the nation’s coasts have been protected from any more offshore oil drilling since 1981. The ban ended this year after not being renewed by Congress. See: Gulf Coast States Mull Over Oil Drilling Ban

Proponents may have a crack at the 10 billion barrels believed to lie in California waters. This may be enough to supply the nation for about 17 months. Ever since high gas prices and unrest in the Middle East, oil companies and politicians have been clamoring for increased domestic drilling here on both coasts. The Republican party made it a rallying cry at its 2008 convention when current chair of GOPAC, Michael Steele, delivered the infamous, “Drill, baby, drill” line in his speech.

Here in California, residents have generally opposed drilling since the 1969 Santa Barbara platform blowout that leaked 3 million gallons crude oil killing dolphins, seals, otters and thousands of seabirds. See: History of 1969 spill

A recent poll declares 51% in this state are in favor of offshore oil drilling. Others fear increased oil spills and damage to environment. Incoming president-elect Barrack Obama hasn’t been locked down on an offshore oil drilling ban. He does prefer more investment in solar, wind and geothermal. He also believes nuclear energy can be better utilized.

April 8, 2008

In wake of SF oil spill: Legislators get busy

The hue and cry over the Cosco Busan oil spill response in San Francisco Bay is finally making itself heard in the California legislature. A least seven new bills have been introduced to force improvements on everything from the state’s oil spill response to volunteer training.

The spill dumped almost 54,000 gallons of bunker crude into the bay after the 900-foot Cosco Busan container ship struck the San Francisco Bay Bridge in heavy fog. The November 2007 disaster closed beaches and killed at least 2,500 birds.

The bills to force change cleared the Assembly Natural Resources committee and will be sent on to the General Assembly.

The bills include:

– Requiring the office of the Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) to provide grants that allow local emergency officials to train and certify volunteers to help in cleanup efforts.

-Increasing the Oil Spill Response Trust Fund from $55 million to $100 million by imposing a 25 cent fee on each barrel of oil produced in or imported into California.

– Improve recovery of wildlife affected by an oil spill by developing and implementing training programs for local officials and volunteers.

These bills are the most significant to come out of the legislature since the middle 1990s when a couple of ammendments added more bite to the original Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act that was passed in 1990. That Act required the Administrator of the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) to establish rescue and rehabilitation stations for aquatic birds, sea otters, and other marine mammals.

Later in 1993, Senate Bill 775 allowed OSPR to use the interest accrued from the State’s Oil Spill Response Trust Fund to build at least six major centers to care for oiled wildlife.

Read more: San Francisco Chronicle

November 14, 2007

Being grateful for what we have in California

From Jay Holcomb, International Bird Rescue’s Executive Director:

I am resting for a minute so I thought I would write a very short update for the blog. First, thank you all for your well wishes and support. We are so grateful to the people who have contributed their time or money to this effort and to IBRRC’s other programs.

New Video report by Contra Costa Times

Secondly, although this is another horrible oil spill impacting the birds we all love to see in our wonderful bay, I want to say to you that we have something unique in this state that no one else has and that we should all be grateful for. I am and maybe that is because I have been through the horror of trying to care for oiled birds in funky disgusting old buildings that were called “emergency bird treatment facilities”. They never worked!

Since 1990 we now have a state mandated program, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, OWCN, that allows us to provide the “best achievable care” for oiled birds in Califonia. IBRRC is a member participant of the OWCN and we manage two large oiled birds facilities in the state for the network. The center we are working in during this spill is our headquarters based in Cordelia, CA. The other facility is in San Pedro, CA, near Long Beach. We love both facilities and after years of working out of warehouses and horrible make-shift emergency centers that very much limited our ability to care for oiled birds, a day does not go by that I am not grateful for what we have in this state.

IBRRC was one of the first groups in the world to even try to rehabilitate oiled birds way back in 1971 when two oil tankers collided in the fog in San Francisco Bay. And now we’re veterans of over 200 oil spills. Can you believe it?

It is hard to imagine we have been all over the world and managed the oiled bird rescue and rehabilitation programs at the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Treasure oil spill in Cape Town, South Africa where the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and IBRRC jointly worked with local groups to save over 21,000 oiled penguins. Yes, 21,000 penguins and we had remarkable 95% release rate in that spill.

But no where else in all these spills and all these countries do they have a program that coordinates concerned and trained people like our response team and builds and helps maintain state of the art oiled bird rehabilitation facilities. It is only here in California that this is ready and available for use in these tragic spills.

So even though we are ALL fed up with politics and bureaucracy, I just want to point out that at least we have this great program for the birds that live or fly through our state.

That is if for now. We are posting pictures so that you can see the birds we are caring for and we will keep people updated as this spill progresses.

Thanks again for all your support,

Jay Holcomb, IBRRC