Fresh From Rehab, Brown Pelicans Released Back to the Wild Off California

Fresh From Rehab, Brown Pelicans Released Back to the Wild Off California

Rehabilitated brown pelicans are released in San Pedro, Calif., on June 5, 2024.(Russ Curtis/International Bird Rescue)

City News Service

City News Service

6/6/2024

Updated: 6/6/2024

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International Bird Rescue has released back into the wild the first Southern California group of 11 rehabilitated brown pelicans that were found starving or injured off California in mid-April, and more pelicans are expected to join them June 6.
JD Bergeron, CEO of International Bird Rescue, told City News Service that 11 birds returned to their natural habitat—the first group of some 165 that are being taken care of in Southern California. He described the release as “picture perfect.'’
“They all came out of their kennels. [They] almost immediately formed a little flying group and landed on the rocks not far away,'' Mr. Bergeron said.
The 11 birds released Wednesday afternoon at White Point Beach in San Pedro were the first to be released in Southern California, with more to be freed in the weeks ahead depending on the birds’ recovery.
Last week, the organization released some brown pelicans that had been at their wildlife center in Northern California. Bergeron said it was an “amazing celebration,'' and the organization tries to make a big moment of these opportunities.
International Bird Rescue has not confirmed what is causing this crisis in the pelicans’ population. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is investigating.
One theory is that the heavy spring storms in Southern California made it difficult for pelicans to access food, with another theory pointing to warming ocean waters, which make it harder for the birds to catch fish because the fish are swimming at deeper levels than normal, according to Bergeron.
“Pelicans are able to dive to about six feet, so fish at seven feet or deeper will cause starvation because the pelicans can’t get to them,'' Bergeron added.
"We're sending them home to the ocean healthy," said Rebecca Duerr of Bird Rescue. Above, pelicans freed in San Pedro, Calif., on June 5, 2024. (Russ Curtis/International Bird Rescue)

"We're sending them home to the ocean healthy," said Rebecca Duerr of Bird Rescue. Above, pelicans freed in San Pedro, Calif., on June 5, 2024. (Russ Curtis/International Bird Rescue)

When birds are starving, especially pelicans, they start to make risky choices, leading them to chase fishing boats or fishermen, causing secondary injuries.
International Bird Rescue is asking for the public’s help in covering the cost of the pelicans’ care. Donations can be made at www.birdrescue.org/savepelicans.
“With these releases, we’re sending them home to the ocean healthy and in great condition to fly wherever they need to go,'' Rebecca Duerr, director of research and veterinary science at Bird Rescue, said in a statement.
“Our special banding program will show how they will do in the wild.'’
Duerr reported that there are still small numbers of pelicans coming into their care, but there are also signs that the birds are successfully foraging again in most locations. She added, “We can’t keep them in care forever, and we can’t fix what’s ailing the ocean.'’
To find food, pelicans often leave their natural habitat and risk their lives in human-populated areas. Some of the pelicans the organization found were in odd places, including one on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport.
Finding birds in unusual and unsafe locations is a clear sign they need help. International Bird Rescue says the public can play a role in reporting these birds to their local animal control or calling their Bird HelpLine at 866-767-2473.
“We are a nonprofit organization. If it weren’t for the support of numerous volunteers helping us care for the animals, and literally thousands of donors helping to pay for the food, medication, and care, this wouldn’t be possible,'' Bergeron said.
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