Sick pelicans found along California coast, but experts don’t know why

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Scores of sick and starving pelicans have been found in coastal California communities in recent weeks and many others have died.

Lifeguards spotted a cluster of two dozen sick pelicans earlier this week on a pier in coastal Newport Beach and called in wildlife experts to assist.

Debbie McGuire, executive director of the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, said the birds are the latest group that they’ve tried to save after taking in more than 100 other pelicans that were anemic, dehydrated and weighing only half of what they should.


“They are starving to death and if we don’t get them into care, they will die,” McGuire said. “It really is a crisis.”

A senior wildlife tech dressed in blue scrubs with blue rubber gloves uses a large feeding syringe to feed a brown pelican that was starving and badly dehydrated while another worker holds the bird's mouth open at Wildlife Care Center.

Lindsey Campbell, left, a senior wildlife tech at Wildlife Care Center, uses a large feeding syringe to feed a brown pelican that was starving and badly dehydrated on May 3, 2024, in Huntington Beach, California. (Leonard Ortiz/The Orange County Register via AP)


It is not immediately clear what is sickening the birds. Some wildlife experts noted the pelicans are malnourished even though marine life abounds off the Pacific Coast.

Bird Rescue, which runs two wildlife centers in Northern and Southern California, reported 110 sick pelicans in the past three weeks, many entangled in fishing line or hooks. A similar event occurred in 2022, the group said.

Wildlife organizations are focused on caring for the birds until they can be released back into the wild.

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