Dozens of sick pelicans turn up on Peninsula beaches

July 20, 2012 12:06:27 AM PDT
Dozens of sick and dying pelicans have turned up on beaches across San Mateo County in recent weeks, putting a strain on resources at a local wildlife care center that takes them in.

Peninsula Humane Society spokesman Scott Delucchi said today that more than 30 Brown Pelicans needing urgent care -- some of them starving, hypothermic and unable to fly -- have been found grounded on local beaches and taken to the PHS wildlife care center in Burlingame.

In a typical year, the PHS cares for about 20 to 25 brown pelicans in distress, but never that many in a short period of time, Delucchi said. "Something is different this year," Delucchi said. "We never see 25 to 30 at one time."

The pelicans -- most of them fledglings about a year old -- are slightly smaller than full-grown adults, which can have a wingspan of six to eight feet and weigh up to 12 pounds.

Accommodating 30 of the big ocean birds has been challenging for the PHS, which has called in extra volunteers to help provide daily care and modified one of its rehab spaces into a "pelican room."

"They're in a room that wasn't designed to hold that many pelicans," Delucchi said. "They poop a lot."

The sickest birds require hourly checks in an intensive care unit until they're well enough to be transferred to the pelican room.

After that, they're given daily checkups and fed a steady diet of anchovies.

The goal is to rehabilitate as many pelicans as possible and return them to the wild. Some are transferred to the International Bird Rescue and Research Center in Fairfield, and, unfortunately, some of the sickest birds can't be saved.

"We've already had some die," Delucchi said.

While wildlife experts try to determine what has been causing the wave of sick pelicans to show up on California beaches -- some believe the birds' food supply has been depleted -- Delucchi said he is encouraged that the trend appears to be slowing down.

"We haven't had any come in for a few days," he said.

Brown Pelicans were once an endangered species, but increased protection of the birds and their habitat has allowed their numbers to recover, Delucchi said.

Anyone who sees a pelican in distress can report it to the PHS by calling (650) 340-7022. A distressed bird is usually lying down and doesn't try to fly away or move when approached. Others are overly aggressive with people fishing or have difficulty holding up their heads.

Caring for injured wildlife at the PHS is made possible by donations, which can be made online at www.peninsulahumanesociety.org.


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