The first bird appeared in September 2019.
A brown pelican arrived at International Bird Rescue in the San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angeles with serious injuries: straight slashes on either side of its pouch that continued to the back of the head, exposing the bird’s neck.
Since then, four more brown pelicans with similar injuries have been treated by the organization, said Rebecca Duerr, director of research and veterinary medicine, and the injuries “have become increasingly dire.”
“With each bird it seems more and more likely that this may not happen naturally,” said Dr. Dry “I can think of a lot of bad things, but I can’t imagine this would happen without someone doing it on purpose.”
Since brown pelicans, common on California beaches, dive for food from 50 feet above the water, the most common injuries are fishhooks or boat propellers, which make irregular, jagged cuts. But “even if you dip into a straight machete,” said Dr. Dürr, “it would do no such harm.”
Since the first injured pelican appeared in 2019, others have appeared with similar injuries about once every quarter, in April, June, September, and most recently on December 15. Three of the birds were found in or near Marina del Rey and the other two in Ventura Harbor.
The recovery process for the birds takes two to three months, said Dr. Dürr, adding that just as one was recovering, it appeared that another was being brought in. Three of the birds were released back into the wild, while another – one captured on December 15 – was euthanized and one died of a fungal infection.
The similarity between the injuries, as well as the seemingly precise cuts, have led International Bird Rescue to believe that it may have been animal cruelty, said Dr. Dry
“Pelicans are viewed as pests by some people,” said Dr. Skinny and not as a “wonderful wild animal” because they care about food and often end up on boats trying to catch the same fish as the fishermen. “Some people see wild animals eating the same fish that people eat as stealing the person’s fish when people have a choice of what to eat and the pelicans don’t.”
The use of DDT, the first modern synthetic insecticide, in the 1940s to 1960s to control mosquitoes that had transmitted malaria and typhoid fever devastated populations of brown pelicans and other birds in the Channel Islands off California even after the chemical was banned 1970s. The contamination caused the birds’ egg shells to thin and break when they tried to breed them.
Brown pelicans were on the federal endangered species list until 2009, and even after that, there were breeding errors caused by reduced food supplies, said Dr. Dry
The brown pelican remains a “fully protected bird,” said Captain Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement, and its violation is in violation of both California and federal law.
“You can’t hurt pelicans,” he said. “You can’t catch them. You can’t chase them. You can’t shoot her. You can’t do things like that. “
The agency is taking the allegations seriously, he added, but has not yet opened a formal investigation due to lack of evidence.
“We have a few more pieces to put together before we can call it an investigation,” said Captain Foy. “When we have reports of this type of activity we will take it absolutely seriously, but we just have nothing to start with.”
Both organizations urge the public to call the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at 888-334-2258 for information or if they witness someone attempting to catch or harm a pelican.
“They don’t harm pelicans in California without someone calling 911,” said Captain Foy. “That would be very difficult to overcome,” he said.
The public has been participating in bird watching since 2009 when International Bird Rescue began marking birds treated with numbered blue ribbons and asking anyone who spotted one to report the sighting. The first bird treated in September 2019 was spotted by a bird watcher near San Luis Obispo, California in July.
Pelicans are “smart, long-lived, prehistoric, cool birds” that are “super fun to look at,” said Dr. Dry “And when people see other people harming them, call your local animal control department or game and fish department or whatever. It’s a crime everywhere. “