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Sick pelicans causing concern. Odd behavior is a mystery.

By Gary Bogue
Tuesday, January 6th, 2009 at 7:36 am in International Bird rescue research Center, Pelicans.

Pelican landing. Photo by Joe Oliver, Walnut Creek, California

Aquatic bird specialists at International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield, Calif., have been receiving reports and admitting pelicans exhibiting odd behavior. Their sister facility in Los Angeles is also seeing an influx in these ailing birds.

“As wildlife rehabilitators, we’re often the first group of people to see a trend developing. We’re the first to notice unusual behavior or illnesses in a population because we’re on the front lines, receiving calls from the public. So, with these pelicans, we know something is going on, we’re just not sure what it is,” said Jay Holcomb, executive director of International Bird Rescue.

Pelicans in flight pen at International Bird Rescue. Photo by IBRRC

What is unusual is that many of the pelicans being admitted to the facility are adult birds that have been found on roads or in fields.

“This type of disorientation in adult pelicans is something we’d see during a domoic acid (shellfish poisoning) outbreak, but we have yet to see them exhibiting the other common symptoms,” added Holcomb.

Another concern for the nonprofit is the expense of caring for these enormous birds. Last year’s figure is staggering. It cost the Fairfield center over $60,000 to feed the large number of pelicans it saw through rehabilitation in 2008 at both facilities.

With the only pelican flight aviaries on the West coast, International Bird Rescue receives pelicans from other centers throughout the region, as far away as San Luis Obispo. Starting the year off with a higher than usual number of pelicans in treatment, and more being admitted daily, the organization has worries as to their ability to treat them all.

“We will not be able to care for all of these birds unless we receive the financial support to do so,” says Holcomb. “We’re relying on contributions from the public to help see these birds through recovery.”

Becoming a Pelican Partner is a unique way for someone to help while also becoming personally involved in a pelican’s care and release. The organization hopes to encourage schools to become involved by offering their new Classroom Partners adoption program. For $300 an entire class of students can participate in their bird’s release back into the wild.

Pelicans in flight. Photo by Joe Oliver, Walnut Creek, California

To find out more go to

If you can help, please send checks to IBRRC 4369 Cordelia Rd., Fairfield, CA 94534 … or donate on-line.

To volunteer, please phone the center at 310-514-2573. To report sick pelicans, call you local rescue organization or use the toll-free Wildlife Hotline 866-WILD-911, press option 2 to report dead pelicans.

Thanks for caring! /Gary

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3 Responses to “Sick pelicans causing concern. Odd behavior is a mystery.”

  1. Terry Green Says:

    We were fishing down at Cabo San Lucas last week. My wife got bit on her finger by a pelican. We treated it on scene. Any information on danger to humans from pelican bites?

    Terry Green Oakland, Oregon

  2. Sherri Says:

    I hope people will send contributions to help the pelicans at the International Bird Research Rescue Center, despite these trying economic times. I have long been intrigued by these prehistoric wonders who have existed long before we were on earth to laugh at how silly they look on land and wonder at how majestic they soar above.

  3. Vicki Says:

    This is really just a shot in the dark..I am from louisana I have over 100 pelicans in my back yard which is Cove in Cross Lake. I have a pelican that is repeatedly in the past 3 weeks alone while the others group together this pelican just sits on a log all day by itself (sometimes I have seen the other pelicans come to check on it) today it stayed huddled up on one of the docks most of the day til I walked over and stood about 7 feet from it then it took its time looking at me then flew out to the middle of the lake where some others were clustered on a log….I know tommorrow I will find him back here again alone I noted also his bill looked real blueish gray instead of orange what should I do ….I hope this email finds the right person …..and not to say it’s just nature.
    This colony comes here every year…but this year they came about 2 months early..please email Vicki Harbour

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