Mystery Illness Affects California’s Brown Pelicans

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Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

An unsettling mystery is unfolding along California’s coastlines as a mass of Brown Pelicans are turning up on California coastlines, injured, ill due to malnutrition, and starving. All these pelicans are being picked up where they’re found and moved to facilities in San Pedro at the Los Angeles Wildlife Center, with most being sent to the International Bird Rescue Center in Fairfield in Northern California.

Since April 20, Brown Pelicans have been showing up in many places in an obvious state of distress. They have been walking in search of food that they cannot find on their own. Worse, up to 40% of the captured brown pelicans have injuries resulting from swallowed fishing hooks and entanglement of fish line, an extra sadness in addition to their state of malnutrition. It is believed that since the birds are not locating their proper foods, they venture to pier locations, become entangled in fishing lines and eat fishing hooks. Some birds have even wandered into establishments such as into a firehouse in Malibu, a nearby pond at SoFi Stadium, and one even walked into a bar. The bottom line to this current dilemma is that the birds are starving to death, and the conservation community is trying to pinpoint the cause.

Searching For The Cause & The Cure

To date, there are more than 260 brown pelicans in the Fairfield facility that are being cared for. After testing, there are no indications of rampant disease that might inhibit the bird from eating even though there are plenty of fish to be had. But this stranding event, which has happened before, is in dire need of assistance from the bird-loving public. While the professionals are actively working to discover the cause of starvation, a call for help is in place. The International Bird Rescue has asked the public to donate, and to attend to wish lists on Amazon to help the facilities to care for these birds.

Back in 2022, a large-scale health-event involved around 800 pelicans. Their stay at the facilities resulted in almost half of the sickened pelicans becoming better and then returning to the wild. It is hoped that with this current batch of pelicans, the reasons for the event can be determined and then eased, while the batch of pelicans now in care can get better and be returned to the wild.

The Bay Area facility has asked the public to donate to help in this crisis. The birds in the facilities consume hundreds of pounds of fish each day. The International Bird Rescue has a posted page with links for donations not only for funding but also a wish list operated from Amazon but linking to

We sincerely hope that this current event can be resolved for the brown pelicans. We all want nothing more than for the pelicans to re-establish their diet norms and become self-sufficient once again.

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