Dead pelicans are becoming a more common sight on piers and public beaches of Los Angeles this summer.
Although a high pelican mortality rate is typical in the months following breeding season—many young pelicans starve to death while learning to forage on their own—more birds are dying because fish, their main source of food, are moving offshore, experts said.
"Breeding season was very successful this year, and the pelican population is actually in a very stable condition," said International Bird Rescue Director Emeritus Jay Holcomb. "But there is always a certain mortality rate, and that depends on whether it's a good or bad fish year."
Fish have been harder to catch recently; they are following cold currents farther offshore and deeper underwater, Holcomb said. To avoid starvation, pelicans are begging for fish from fishermen and members of the public. While begging, pelicans often get caught in fishing nets and hooks.
According to a recent International Bird Rescue press release, some pelicans also find themselves drenched in fish cleaning stations' oily runoff, which interferes with the waterproofing of their feathers.
"The young ones are like teenagers, trying to understand how to survive in the world ... they see a fisherman catch a fish, think it's a free meal, and get caught in the net or have some other problem," Holcomb said.
As a result of this risky behavior, more injured and starving pelicans are flooding the International Bird Rescue's Los Angeles Center. The center is currently caring for 126 brown pelicans—more than twice the number of pelicans it helped rehabilitate this time last year.
The center advises fishermen and members of the public not to feed the pelicans. Pelicans have to learn how to forage for food on their own and contact with humans may cause long-term dependency, Holcomb said.
International Bird Rescue is also asking for donations to fund its rescue efforts. Donors can choose to join the "Pelican Partner Program," which directly funds a patient pelican's release back into the wild.