Over the weekend, more than 30 ailing brown pelicans were brought to Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network for treatment. | Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network

Last weekend, the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network (SBWCN) retrieved a massive influx of brown pelican patients from all over Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The more than 30 birds were rescued from freeways, backyards, and fresh waters — an unusual habitat for brown pelicans — with most of them severely emaciated, weak, and unable to move or fly. SBWCN treated around 100 brown pelicans during all of 2021. 

SBWCN communications manager Lauren Gonzales said that the network was still investigating the cause of these conditions and running tests, but no conclusions have been made yet. The California Fish and Wildlife Department is also involved. 

Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network

Meanwhile, the seabird bay at SBWCN, normally equipped to handle just a handful of patients, has been converted into a large pen for all 30 birds, the majority of whom are juveniles. “Staff and volunteers are working a lot of hours to provide fluids, medication, and food,” said Gonzales. “All hands are on deck.” SBWCN is planning to transfer some of the pelicans to International Bird Rescue to assist in their rehabilitation.

Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network

Brown pelicans are a species of large seabirds that can be found all along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to northern Chile. Their broad wings, heavy bodies, long bills, and distinctive pouches make them adept at diving into water to claim prey. Weighing about eight pounds and measuring about four feet in length, brown pelicans are also strong swimmers. Nesting season extends from March to the late summer, with many brown pelicans choosing to settle on the slopes, canyons, and high bluff tops of Santa Barbara Island. 

A few of the rescued birds have already died, in addition to an unknown number that could not make it to SBWCN in time to receive treatment. Those that did arrive have been so weak that most can stand only with great difficulty; others are incapable of getting to their feet at all. 

Anyone who finds a pelican in need of help can call the SBWCN Helpline at (805) 681-1080. Deceased birds should also be reported but not touched or handled.

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