We have now logged over 460 dead or ill pelicans from Baja California to Astoria, Oregon since mid-December. Some test results have been received, but many results are still pending. More conclusive evidence is expected within a week or two. So far, birds have tested negative for avian influenza and for high levels of domoic acid.
One theory is that the brown pelicans migrated south late, likely due to unseasonably warm weather on the Oregon coast in November. In mid-December the coast experienced record-breaking cold temperatures, after which pelicans were found suffering from frostbite.
Pouch and foot injuries seen in California could be consistent with frostbite in birds that migrated after being caught in cold weather. The behavioral changes we have seen, however, are unusual. These behavioral changes are different from what is usually seen in starving, debilitated birds.
“While it is likely that the change in migration patterns contributed to the problems we are seeing, frostbite does not explain the behavioral changes we are seeing in the ill pelicans,” said Dr. Heather Nevill, IBRRC veterinarian. “Until complete test results are available, it is premature to assume that this event was caused solely by weather changes.”
If you see an ailing pelicans report it to your local rescue organization or by calling the toll-free California Wildlife Hotline 866-WILD-911. If you’ve found a dead pelican, you are encouraged to leave information by pressing option 2.