Over the last eight months, more than 30 pelicans have been found along the Southern California coast suffering from often-severe wing fractures, prompting wildlife officials Wednesday to reach out to the public for information on who may be attacking them.
Debbie McGuire, executive director of the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, said the facility began treating pelicans with broken wings in late October, but there has been “an uptick since March.”
She said 32 injured pelicans have been brought in with injuries, and 22 of them had compound fractures.
In some cases, “the bone is completely broken in half and protrudes through the skin,” McGuire said, adding that the injuries leave the pelicans vulnerable to infection.
The injured pelicans have been found in areas including Dana Point, San Clemente, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, which is basically the entire county shoreline, McGuire said.
“We need the eyes and ears of the public to help us,” McGuire said.
Treating the pelicans can cost at least $5,000 apiece, so the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center is also seeking donations. To donate money go to snwbl.it/hjy16v.
Anyone with information was asked to call the state Department of Fish and Wildlife toll-free tip line at 888-334-2258. The public may also text “CALTIP” followed by a space and the message to 8474111 (tip411).
Capt. Patrick Foy of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife law enforcement division said the Huntington Beach wildlife care center and the International Bird Rescue organization have both concluded that the injuries are consistent with being human-caused.
“Unfortunately, we have no suspects and not many tips,” Foy said. “And essentially no other evidence other than the injured birds themselves and expert opinions from these two organizations that the injuries are human caused.”
“It’s a very large puzzle to put together,” he said.
Foy said he is still not certain that the birds are the victims of human attackers, noting the difficulty of capturing a pelican just to harm them.
“That’s something that has us scratching our heads,” Foy said. “I am a trainer in wildlife capture and restraining, basically catching wild animals — and I’ve been a trainer for more than 20 years. You’d have to have specialized equipment, some know-how and it’s not easy. That would be a very significant, important part of our investigation. How would someone catch these birds? After we can figure that part out, why would they be injuring them and then releasing them into the wild in an injured state.”
But he said “it’s too hard to speculate” on how the birds would have suffered such injuries beyond human actions.
McGuire said pelicans can be caught using fish bait, noting that she took part in pelican-rescue operations following a major oil spill in Santa Barbara.
“Pelicans like to hang out near people,” she said. “They’re not that afraid of people. They’re hungry and will go after easy food. They’re kind of like a big old dog who likes food.”
She said pelicans sometimes get injured on fish hooks, but those are typically small sores and not like the “compound fractures” the rescue and care organizations have seen.
According to the International Bird Rescue organization, at least four California Brown Pelicans had their pouches and necks slashed by the end of last year, and the group offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of any attackers. The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center has offering a $500 reward.