Photo in the News: Baby Pelicans Starving on California Coast

Pelican being examined photo
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June 26, 2006—Dozens of baby brown pelicans have been washing ashore in southern California too starved and weak to care for themselves, animal-welfare workers recently reported.

Katie Sievers (left) and Ann Nguyen are seen in this June 19 photo drawing a blood sample from one of the birds at the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield, California. Workers at the center's Cordelia facility, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from San Francisco (California map), have this month taken in nearly two dozen of the emaciated pelicans, all between two and four months old.

"Some of the birds are so weak you cannot give them whole fish," Megan Prelinger, a specialist at the center, told the Associated Press. The center instead supplies the pelicans with an intravenous solution and liquid food pumped directly into their stomachs until they can handle solid food.

Local experts say the birds might be victims of their own success. Brown pelicans nearly vanished from California in the 1970s, likely because of exposure to the insecticide DDT (photo: DDT sprayed at the beach, 1945), which made many birds' eggs too fragile to survive.

The U.S. government banned DDT in 1972. Strong population recovery since then could mean there are so many pelicans that they are competing with each other for food. This spring's breeding season, which produced a substantial number of chicks, has made competition among the birds particularly intense, Hannah Nevins, a seabird biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, told the AP.

Nevins says more research is needed to tell if the starving birds are also an indication of a shortage of small fish, such as sardines and anchovies, in the region.

—Victoria Gilman

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