Observed changes in the brown pelican population prompted a first-ever citizen survey of the bird's numbers.

Mike McCrary

Observed changes in the brown pelican population prompted a first-ever citizen survey of the bird's numbers.

Brown Pelican Results Are In

Crowdsourced Population Count in May Part of Ongoing Studies

A citizen count of brown pelicans from Baja California north to Washington state was held at dusk on May 7, and according to preliminary results announced on Wednesday, 6,378 total birds were counted. The population has not been formally counted since 2006, when roughly 70,680 pairs — or about 141,360 brown pelicans of breeding age —were counted in the same general region, though the 2006 count included islands where the birds nest, which the citizen count did not. Information from the May count, the first of its kind, is considered to be a preliminary and partial look at the current pelican population. A second citizen count in October will augment this one. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) is also funding a $120,000, five-year scientific study of the brown pelican population.

Intermittent bird counts held since the brown pelican achieved delisting as an endangered species in November 2009 indicate a drift downward in numbers. The citizen counts, as well as the ongoing Fish and Wildlife study, will give a more accurate indication of whether brown pelican populations are indeed in decline, said Ashley Spratt, of the Ventura USFW office, the lead field station for the “birding blitz.”

The May survey included 179 locations along the coast and known roosting “hotspots” for the soaring fisherbirds, whose numbers were decimated by the long-lasting pesticide DDT in the 1970s. The count took place from 5-7 p.m., and 187 participants used Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon’s eBird portal to record birds spotted, notes, and photographs.

The majority of the birds were found between San Diego and San Francisco, which held about 150 of the reporting sites. Eight sites were in Mexico, five in Washington, and 19 in Oregon. In the 2006 count, recorded in a U.S. Geological Survey study published in 2007, wildlife ecologists found the majority of brown pelicans nesting in Mexico’s Gulf of California. Roughly 15-20 percent of the population is known to breed at California’s Channel Islands.

Spratt said timing was important in a count like this, with fewer birds on the coast possibly indicating more birds nesting on the islands. The next count will be held in October, and people interested in participating can find out more at

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

Goleta Target Store Confirmed

Set to open at Kmart location in 2019.

County Fire Chief Calls for More Fuel Breaks

Peterson wants to create a continuous front-country line from Montecito to Goleta.

Crime Rates Down, Youth Arrests Up in Santa Barbara County

A 'high percentage' of misdemeanor citations happen on school campuses.

Will Hollister Ranch Access Deal Hold Up Under Public Scrutiny?

State commissioners are taking a closer look at settlement over beach access to Santa Barbara County gated ...

Faced with a Gun, Sheriff’s Sergeant Holds His Fire

Sgt. Freddy Padilla reflects on potentially life-saving decisions during welfare call.