Living Green

Feb 10, 2010 11:20 PM by Danielle Lerner

Local wildlife center struggling to keep up with spike in sick pelicans

A spike in the number of sick pelicans could force several rescue centers to close their doors.

Since January 1, wildlife centers in Central and Southern California have received nearly 500 birds.

That is more than they usually see all year. Experts say the pelicans appear to be starving.

Many in the Santa Barbara area are also covered with sludge, so their feathers are not waterproof.

It is another busy day at Pacific Wildlife Care in Morro Bay as volunteers help nurse dozens of adult pelicans back to health.

Some are arriving covered in sludge, possibly from storm runoff in the Santa Barbara burn areas.

"This is causing their feathers not to be waterproof and that has a big affect on their ability to fly and stay warm, they have to stay fairly warm," said Russ Ferriday, a volunteer with Pacific Wildlife Care.

Volunteers are also finding dead or injured birds in people's backyards, along the highway, and near power lines.

The unusual behavior is believed to be a symptom of starvation.

"It's impossible to see an animal like this suffering, and do nothing," said Dani Nicholson, of Pacific Wildlife Care.

However doing something is getting tougher. The center has already treated close to 40 pelicans since January 1, it usually sees one or two.

With rehab costs at about $100 per bird, resources are running dry.

"It's just putting a huge strain on our people resources, our financial resources," said Nicholson. "The fish is just astronomical, these birds eat their body weight in fish, per day."

"We are concerned that we may have to start turning birds away," said Ferriday.

For now volunteers will keep trying to make a dent, and on Wednesday, a small victory. Three healthy adult pelicans took flight once again.

Pacific Wildlife Care is teaming up with three other organizations in Central and Southern California.

They are asking state and city governments to provide more funding. They are also turning to the public for help in the form of donations and volunteers.

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