Large numbers of young brown pelicans are showing up on California’s beaches and fishing piers, and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is advising the public not to feed them. Although the pelicans may exhibit begging behavior and some may appear weak, the birds need to remain wild and forage naturally.

When people feed pelicans, it leads to habituation to humans and conflicts in the future, such as entanglement in fishing line around piers,said DFG Wildlife Biologist Esther Burkett. Improper feeding can also cause damage to the pelicans throat pouch and intestinal tract, and contribute to a decline in fitness and possible death.

Although many people are understandably concerned about ailing pelicans, it is normal for some to die in the summer due to natural causes, especially the young pelicans learning to feed on schooling fish. The mortalities are caused by a natural balancing between population size and available food supply.

Anglers also should not feed pelicans or throw food scraps toward them or into the water. Trash cans and dumpsters should be kept closed to prevent pelicans from jumping in and getting oiled, and from getting fish parts lodged in their pouches and throats. Most of the pelicans in peril are young birds and human contact habituates them to become pier bums,leading to an unsafe situation for the birds.

Saving individual pelicans requires expensive capture, cleaning and care at a licensed rehabilitation facility,adds Burkett. Its far easier to exercise caution and take steps to prevent the problem in the first place.

Another hazard facing pelicans that linger in unenclosed areas is fish oil at fish cleaning stations. Fish oils compromise seabirds’ natural waterproofing and insulation, making them vulnerable to hypothermia when cold ocean water contacts their skin.

Anyone who sees pelicans that appear to be sick or injured, or entangled with fishing line should not touch or approach them. Injured wildlife will instinctively defend themselves and may injure someone trying to help them.

Though California brown pelicans are no longer listed as endangered, they are still a fully-protected species in California, and a beautiful spectacle to behold while flying over the ocean and plunging into the water for food.

If you see injured or entangled pelicans that could be captured by trained wildlife handlers, please call one of these wildlife rescue organizations:

  • Bird Ally X Humboldt Wildlife Care Center(707) 825-0801
  • Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA: (650) 494-7283 or (650) 340-8200
  • Native Animal Rescue of Santa Cruz County: (831) 462-0726
  • SPCA for Monterey County: (831) 646-5534
  • Wild Care, statewide: (866) WILD-911
  • In other areas, please call your local humane society or SPCA

Image courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Game

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