SANTA ANA, Calif. — Pelicans suffering from a mysterious malady are crashing into cars and boats, wandering along roadways and turning up dead by the hundreds across the West Coast, from southern Oregon to Baja California, Mexico, bird-rescue workers say.
Weak, disoriented birds are huddling in people’s yards or being struck by cars. More than 100 have been rescued along the California coast, according to the International Bird Rescue Research Center in San Pedro.
Hundreds of birds, disoriented or dead, have been observed across the West Coast.
“One pelican actually hit a car in Los Angeles,” said Rebecca Dmytryk of Wildrescue, a bird-rescue operation. “One pelican hit a boat in Monterey.”
While some of the symptoms resemble those associated with domoic-acid poisoning — an ocean toxin that sometimes affects sea birds and mammals — other symptoms do not. Domoic acid also apparently has not been found in significant amounts offshore, although more tests are needed.
Rescuers are wondering whether the illness is caused by a virus, or even by contaminants washed into the ocean after recent fires across Southern California. Many of the birds also have swollen feet.
“These birds are on the freeway, getting run over,” said Jay Holcomb, executive director of the rescue center in San Pedro. “A bunch we’ve seen have been hit. They’ve been landing on yards five miles inland. When some of the people have captured them in parking lots, they just sit in the corner. They just go pick them up.”
“Maybe the weather has been particularly difficult on them,” said Heather Nevill, a veterinarian tracking the problem for the International Bird Rescue Research Center. “Maybe the fish stocks are particularly low. It might be more than one thing, all coming together at once.”