More than 30 seriously injured California Brown Pelicans have been brought to the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach up and down the Orange County coast in the past eight months, and authorities are seeking help to stop apparent attacks.
âIt’s very disturbing,â said Executive Director Debbie McGuire. “The latest arrival brought tears to my eyes.”
At least 22 pelicans have had their wings neatly snapped in half – damaged to the point that their bones pierced the skin, rescue center veterinarian Elizabeth Wood said.
Despite several emergency surgeries, Wood told a press conference on Wednesday that the fractures were severe enough that the birds could not be rescued.
These types of compound fractures are usually fatal, she said, and they require immediate attention to give the birds any chance of survival. Wood said the surgeries are expensive, costing the center around $ 5,000 each, and the post-operative rehabilitation process can take several months, resulting in total costs ranging from $ 50,000 to $ 100,000 per bird.
âIt’s an expensive endeavor, unfortunately, but we think it’s well worth it, especially since these birds are vital to our ecosystems which are already in decline,â she said.
Another 10 birds that arrived with less serious injuries were rehabilitated and released.
The injured birds have been found by rescuers and even people simply visiting the shore; animal control officers bring them to the nonprofit center, which has been rehabilitating wildlife since 1998.
âThese are birds that are well adapted to a marine environment,â Wood said of the reasons human attacks are suspected. âIt would take a really, really big impact to systematically break them. “
Because the center typically only sees pelicans with complex fractures a few times a year, Wood said she believed the frequency of this latest outbreak of injury indicates these birds were intentionally injured.
Captain Patrick Foy of the State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife said a similar chain of attacks involving at least four California brown pelicans in Ventura County was first reported in April 2020. They were found with severe cuts to their necks, which experts say are human-made.
The department has consolidated the Ventura and Orange County pelican attacks into one investigation – a suspect could face charges ranging from poaching to animal cruelty, Foy said.
This is not the first time that the health center has treated pelicans with injuries suspected to be the work of man. In 2008, the center was able to save one pelican out of a group of 11 that suffered similar wing fractures at Bolsa Chica State Beach.
The brown pelican was almost led to disappear in the early 1970s. Following conservation efforts and the ban on the insecticide DDT, their populations exploded in the 1980s and the birds were removed from the California and federal lists of endangered species in 2009. Brown pelicans continue to be affected by oil pollution, stray hooks and other human activities. , said Wood.
In May 2019, the US Department of Fish and Wildlife and its partners counted 4,925 brown pelicans along the coast from California to Washington. Brown pelicans have gray-brown feathers, a yellow head, and a white neck, and they are rarely seen inland.
The Wildlife Center is offering a reward of $ 500 for information on attacks, call the CalTIP line at 888-334-2258. The center is also collection donations to care for pelicans.