FAIRFIELD — A banding study done by nonprofit International Bird Rescue has revealed that unlike most birds, some California Brown Pelicans head north, not south, for the winter.
Far north. All the way to British Columbia, Canada.
Two first-year birds rehabilitated by the staff at the International Bird Rescue in Fairfield and released Aug. 23 under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco have been sighted multiple times by researchers and bird lovers on Vancouver Island, B.C.
“We knew that pelicans follow the fish, and that many feed along the coast of Oregon and Washington,” said Jay Holcomb, International Bird Rescue’s director and head researcher of the Blue-Banded Pelican Project, in a press release. “But we are surprised that these young pelicans, who survived life-threatening, human-caused injuries, flew that far north so quickly after their release.”
The two pelicans – known as R36 and R41, the numbers on their bright blue bands – excited researchers at the Red Rocks Ecological Reserve on Vancouver Island when they arrived in mid-November. After taking photos of the birds, the researchers were able to see the numbers on the bands, which they then reported to Holcomb.
“What excites everyone involved is knowing the history of the birds, which before this band study was difficult to impossible,” Holcomb said.
Corresponding with the researchers via email, Holcomb was able to share the stories of these two pelicans. He reported back that this was the first sighting of R36, a first-year bird that had come into International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Area center in Fairfield on July 22 with fishing tackle injuries.
R41 was first reported Nov. 22 by a member of the public who spotted the bird at Ogden Point in Victoria, B.C. R41 had come into the care of the International Bird Rescue on July 20, cold and weak from fish oil contamination from a public fish-cleaning station.
“This is the positive of our work, the payoff. These birds have made incredible journeys. They first flew about 400 miles from the Channel Islands, where they most likely hatched and fledged. They then flew from San Francisco to Victoria Island, most likely following adults, a distance of around 800 miles,” Holcomb said.
This should give people a whole different perspective on pelicans, who are typically associated with warmer climates and are prevalent in southern regions such as the Southeastern Seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico, Southern California and Mexico, Holcomb said.
International Bird Rescue has banded more than 5,000 rehabilitated Brown Pelicans over the past 20 years as part of the North American Bird Banding Program. In November 2009, when Brown Pelicans were taken off the endangered species list, large blue plastic leg bands were added to make released pelicans easier to spot by researchers and the public.
More than 1,000 pelicans have been blue banded and 220 individuals have been reported as of Thursday from Mexico to British Columbia.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.