Bird center overwhelmed by pelicans

Director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center Jay Holcomb said the wildlife hospital has admitted 123 injured pelicans so far this year, but 108 of those birds have been admitted since June 15, the majority coming from Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

Two popular fishing piers in Santa Cruz County have been temporarily closed because of the alarming number of injured pelicans.

"We have the space to house all these birds; what we need through is the financial support to pay for fish and medication," Holcomb said. The hospital currently has 61 pelicans, which adds up to about $20,000 per month.

People can help by donating to the International Bird Rescue Research Center or "adopt" a pelican on the organization's Web site.

Businesses on the piers will remain open, according to the Department of Fish and Game. The piers will remain closed until the schools of bait fish, mainly anchovies, move on, leading the pelicans away.

Most of the pelicans getting ensnared in fishing gear are young birds that are just learning to hunt, according to Holcomb.

The youngsters have followed schools of anchovies and sardines up the coast from their nesting grounds in the Channel Islands in Southern California, Holcomb said.

Recreational fishermen going after the same fish often have as many as five hooks on a single line. When the young pelicans see the wriggling fish being pulled out of the water, they swoop down to eat them and get tangled in the line or caught on the hooks, Holcomb said.

Pelicans have been listed as an endangered species since 1970 when the pesticide Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane, known as DDT, nearly wiped out their populations. The species has since made a major comeback and, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, officials have proposed to take the pelicans off the endangered species list.

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