Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saving The Brown Pelican

Recently, with the cold weather setting in, our four Brown Pelicans were moved to the building where I spend a great deal of my time working.   After many hours of caring for them I have found myself wanting to know more about this interesting species.
Brown Pelican - Jacksonville, FL
I stumbled on a few articles about the issues brown pelicans on the west coast of North America are dealing with and I wanted to share them with all of our readers.  To begin with, there are two distinct sub-species of Brown Pelicans—the California Brown Pelican and the Eastern Brown Pelican.  The birds that reside at the World Bird Sanctuary  are the Eastern Brown Pelican sub-species.
Gumbo & Cocoa, the two original Brown Pelicans that came to us during the Gulf Oil Spill
Both Brown Pelican populations have had a rough path during the last 50 years.  In the 70’s the Brown Pelican population was on the verge of being completely wiped out.  The pesticide DDT was largely to blame for the population crash.  DDT is a pesticide that is commonly linked with causing bird eggshells to become thin.  As in other avian species-- most notably the raptors who are at the top end of the food chain--the eggshells became so thin that they were oftentimes crushed by the parents incubating the eggs.  When the use of DDT was banned in the US the Brown Pelican population started to recover, and in 2009 they were removed from the endangered species list.

Now Brown Pelicans are facing another crisis--a scarcity of available food.  The Sardine population has dropped in recent years and has caused Brown Pelican numbers to slowly decline. In addition, Brown Pelican nesting populations are sensitive to human disturbance and major storms, so their populations remain in a delicate balance.
Brown Pelicans sunning on a boat dock - Apalachicola, FL
Unfortunately the study and research of Brown Pelicans has been almost eliminated with the recent government cutbacks, so there are many questions that are still unanswered at this point.  One recent study in 2013 by the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex found that the Northwest population of Brown Pelicans was at a record low of only 7,000 birds--about half of the population average recorded in the past decade and the lowest since 1999.

If you would like to see the Brown Pelicans that reside at the World Bird Sanctuary, stop by when the weather finally warms up in the spring, when they will be moved back up to their exhibit enclosure past the Wildlife Hospital.  You will find it interesting to compare the two species of Pelicans that reside here—Brown Pelican vs. White Pelican.

These interesting seabirds are available for adoption through The World Bird Sanctuary’s Adopt A Bird program. 

Submitted by Adam Triska, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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