Pelicans are starving and dying along California coastline

Starving, injured pelicans in California. Photo: State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. 

A surge of injured and starving pelicans are showing up at wildlife centers in California and those that don't make it are dying in high numbers. 

Since April 20, an "unusually high number" of the water birds have been arriving at wildlife rehabilitation centers along the Santa Cruz to San Diego coastlines,  according to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The pelicans are extremely emaciated, cold and anemic and some have secondary injuries. 

The state Department of Fish and Game is doing postmortem exams to assess the ongoing situation, but wildlife experts seem to believe they are dying of starvation.

Specifically, International Bird Rescue said that roughly 250 pelicans have arrived at the International Bird League’s rescue centers in Los Angeles and Fairfield in the last three weeks, with at least 40% of them showing significant injuries they've received from getting entangled in fishing lines and hooks.

Scientists believe the pelicans are getting tangled up in the lines during their frantic searches for food. 

"We urgently need donations to help care for these starving birds," Kylie Clatterbuck, Los Angeles Wildlife Center Manager, told Bird Rescue. "As a non-profit we rely on the generosity of the public to help pay for additional medicine and the extraordinary cost of fish."

In Northern California, the bulk of pelicans needling help are from the Monterey and Santa Cruz areas. 

In Southern California, the pelicans are being rescued in odd spots, such as a lake at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood and a fire station in Malibu.

Diagnostic testing has not revealed any evidence of diseases such as bird flu that may be causing these deaths and malnutrition. 

It is not immediately clear what is sickening the birds. Some wildlife experts noted the pelicans are malnourished even though marine life abounds off the Pacific Coast.

Fish and Wildlife officials called this a "stranding event," which happens from time to time along the California coast in a variety of seabird species. 

A similar pelican die-off occurred in spring 2022 with nearly 800 pelicans admitted into wildlife rehabilitation facilities and 394 successfully returned to the wild, Fish and Wildlife officials said. 

If you have found a pelican in need of care, the public is urged to contact the organization’s Bird HelpLine at 866-SOS-BIRD (866-767-2473). After hours, they should contact their local animal control office.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.