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What's wrong with brown pelicans? Rescuers struggle to help starving seabirds

February 5, 2010 |  5:56 pm

Wildlife rescuers are concerned about an alarming trend: Brown pelicans, in large numbers, are being found malnourished, begging for food and, in some cases, dead along the Oregon coast. The reason for the birds' distress remains mysterious; our colleague Kim Murphy reports on experts' efforts to save them and discover the cause of their predicament. Here's an excerpt:

Pelican As many as 1,000 of the gangly seabirds failed to make their annual fall migration to California, many instead winding up at Oregon's rehabilitation centers.

Those that did head south, leaving the Pacific Northwest winter behind, were battered by California's recent storms. Shelters in San Pedro and the San Francisco Bay Area are also full of emaciated pelicans.

Researchers, at a loss to explain the casualties, are looking at unusual ocean currents and the depletion of fish stocks -- as well as warmer temperatures, toxic runoff and algae blooms -- as possible causes.

Meanwhile, pelicans are sitting listlessly on beaches and scavenging outside restaurants and canneries.

"In one parking lot, there were people in cars surrounded by pelicans asking for food. We have never seen that before," said Roy Lowe, project leader for the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. "These birds literally have lost all fear of humans."

In San Pedro, the International Bird Rescue Research Center has taken in about 130 pelicans; a similar number are at the center's Northern California facility.


Photo: A rescuer lifts an injured brown pelican from the cleaning station at the Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Astoria, Ore. Credit: Benjamin Reed / For the Times

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