Dozens of sick pelicans found at beaches

Situation puts strain on wildlife care center in San Mateo County

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 (PHS) spokesman Scott Delucchi said Thursday, July 19, 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. "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, he 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

— Chris Cooney/Bay City News Service


Like this comment
Posted by litebug
a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2012 at 11:37 am

I wonder if the investigation will include checking for possible effects of radiation from Japan.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Radiation from Japan would be very far down on my list of suspects. There must be a thousand chemicals and pathogens to check first.

Like this comment
Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 20, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Radiation is an equal opportunity toxic. With 30 sick pelicans we would expect to see an increase in a variety of other sick organisms.

Like this comment
Posted by moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm

This is the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

For every sick or dead pelican found, there are probably 50 more nearby that we'll never know about.

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm

From what I have read this is normal and expected behavior for pelicans. It has to do with territory and feeding patterns, and the young ones that don't find productive feeding grounds end up starving. This has more to do with Darwin than Fukushima.

Like this comment
Posted by Curie
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Eating bananas gives more radiation exposure than the reactor problems at Fukushima. Have the pelicans been eating bananas?

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