Since May 14, the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network has battled a bird crisis, with 140 weak and emaciated brown pelicans arriving downtown by truck as of Wednesday. According to Lauren Gonzales, communications manager for the Wildlife Care Network, 70 percent of those pelicans have managed to survive, with most of them seeing an improvement in their health condition while under Wildlife Care’s supervision and care. “We gave them fish, medicine and lots of salt water,” she said. “A lot of the pelicans are behaving more energetically now, which is usually a good sign.”
Of the surviving pelicans, 50-60 of them have been housed in wildlife care facilities, while others have been sent to partner organizations such as International bird sanctuary† Sick birds keep arriving with the truckload without any sign of abating. Upon arrival, they must undergo a thorough examination and a blood draw. Pelicans have been sighted and rescued from places far from their natural habitat, including roads, backyards, freshwater, and tennis courts; As of Saturday, Wildlife Care Network has received approximately 400 calls from concerned residents in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
SB Wildlife Care Network, International Bird Rescue and the California Fish and Wildlife Department are still investigating the cause of the sudden and mind-boggling event. The crisis has been exacerbated by the timing during the brown pelican mating season, with many birds settling in the Santa Barbara Islands and other remote areas.
Meanwhile, Wildlife Care staff and volunteers have been stretched, with many of the latter being trained on the job to survey, feed, handle and care for the pelicans. “The situation is terrifying and stressful, because of the sheer number of birds and all the unknown factors out there,” Gonzales said. “But our employees and volunteers motivate each other and are committed to the task.” Wildlife Cares Twitter page, which regularly posts updates on the situation, called for additional volunteers and donations on Thursday.
Anyone who finds a pelican in need of assistance can call the Wildlife Care Helpline at (805) 681-1080, which is staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dead birds should also be reported, but should not be touched or handled. According to the Sheriff’s Office, there is no animal care number that is guaranteed to have an operator after 5 p.m.