Wildlife Scientists Continue to Seek Cause of California Brown Pelican Illness and Mortality

Since approximately May 13, 2022, several Southern and Central California wildlife rehabilitation facilities from San Luis Obispo County south to San Diego County have been admitting hundreds of California brown pelicans, a fully protected species in California. The pelicans have been found emaciated and frequently with secondary injuries or broken wings. Many of these birds died shortly after arrival at a facility. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), local wildlife rehabilitation facilities and other state partners are coordinating to assess the ongoing situation.

CDFW is conducting postmortem examination and testing on pelicans that have been brought into rehabilitation facilities. Results indicate that pelicans are succumbing to starvation-related problems. Currently, there are no indications of disease or unusual parasites. CDFW is unable to provide information on the underlying cause of this event at this time.

For your and the birds’ safety, CDFW, USFWS and wildlife rehabilitation facilities ask the public to not touch, attempt to feed, or take photographs (“selfies”) with the birds. Please do not attempt to remove fishing lines or embedded fishing hooks from entangled birds as this may cause further injury.

Here’s how you can help

Report an injured or sick pelican. Call your local wildlife rehabilitation facility and email the Wildlife Health Laboratory at RehabWildlife@wildlife.ca.gov.

  • San Diego County – SeaWorld San Diego Rescue team: 1-800-541-7325 or SWC.Rescue@seaworld.com
  • Orange County – Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center: (714) 374-5587
  • Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties – Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network: (805) 681-1080
  • San Luis Obispo County – Pacific Wildlife Care: (805) 543-9453
  • Los Angeles County – International Bird Rescue (San Pedro): (310) 514-2573
  • Los Angeles County – California Wildlife Center (Malibu): (310) 458-9453
  • Monterey County – SPCA Monterey County: (831) 373-2631
  • Santa Cruz County – Native Animal Rescue: (831) 462-0726
  • Report dead pelicans using the CDFW’s Wildlife Health Laboratory mortality reporting form to help monitor unusual mortality events. Please include photos if possible.
  • Support Wildlife Rehabilitation Facilities. Consider donating tosupporting one of the permitted facilities intaking brown pelicans and contact them directly for how to best assist.
  • Support the Coastal Ocean Mammal and Bird Education and Research Surveys (BeachCOMBERS) program. This collaborative project between Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, USFWS, CDFW and other partners enlists trained volunteers to monitor unusual mortality events.

California brown pelicans need your help! This species was listed as federally endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1970 due to the impacts of DDT, a pesticide. After DDT was banned, they made a remarkable recovery and were removed from the endangered species list in 2009. This species plays an important role in the Pacific Coast ecosystem feeding on northern anchovy, Pacific sardine and mackerel.

CDFW, USFWS and partners will continue to track this unusual event. We value the public’s interest and appreciate all efforts to report.

MAIN IMAGE: Brown Pelican Adult in Flight. Monterey Bay, California, USA. Photo: yhelfman/istockphoto.com