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Wildlife officials say bad weather, food shortages likely to blame for recent die-off of brown pelicans

February 23, 2010 |  6:43 pm

Earlier this month, we told you about a disturbing trend affecting brown pelicans: Large numbers of the birds were being found malnourished, begging for food or, in some cases, dead, along the Pacific coast in Oregon and California. The reason for their distress was considered a mystery, but wildlife officials have recently announced what they believe to be the cause of their distress. Our colleague Jill Leovy has the details on The Times' environment blog, Greenspace; here's an excerpt:

Pelicans The mysterious pelican malady that left hundreds of the birds sick and stranded along the Oregon and California coasts this winter was probably caused by a combination of bad weather and fish shortages related to El NiƱo, state Fish and Game officials said Monday.

After ruling out such potential causes as disease or marine toxins, a group of scientists from state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups and Sea World in San Diego concluded that a simple scarcity of pelican prey, such as anchovies and sardines, probably combined with winter storms to produce flocks of hungry, wet, soiled pelicans, dying on beaches or looking for handouts.

Of the hundreds of birds washed, warmed and fed at rescue centers, about a third died, and many that were not rescued also succumbed.

Fish and Game officials called it a "cyclical event" that amounted to a perfect storm of bad luck for the birds. Many had strayed too far north during their annual migration, then arrived back in California weak and emaciated, only to find their usual food sources depleted and the weather inclement. They began eating the wrong things, lost weight., and got cold.

A similar event struck pelicans along the coast a year ago, although fewer turned up at rescue centers.


Photo: A few of the 75 brown pelicans rescued in the Bay Area rest in a recovery area at the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Cordelia, Calif., on Feb. 5. Credit: Rick Roach / Associated Press

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