SM BEACH — Wildlife officials have collected nearly 70 California brown pelicans that have been battered by rains and urban runoff and are gearing up to help dozens more.
Most of the birds are suffering from hypothermia and appear disoriented. Their feathers normally form a natural barrier to the water and act as insulation from the cold but instead are matted by oil, grease and other gunk from massive runoff, much of it from roads and freeways, said Paul Kelway, spokesman for the International Bird and Rescue Center in San Pedro.
The center is treating 33 pelicans and Santa Barbara County authorities have rescued 36 more, Kelway said. Crews have also been sent to Santa Monica amid reports that dozens of birds are in trouble. Officials are trying to send some birds to San Francisco Bay area where the center has another treatment facility.
“Everything is pointing to these storms and the contaminants making their way into the water,” Kelway said. “We are finding pelicans with contaminated feathers. We have to wash them. The timing of this really points to the storms and this urban runoff.
“The pelicans are just getting pummeled by these storms.”
Workers at the center in San Pedro are using dishwashing liquid to clean the birds, just as they do during oil spills. The process can take five to seven days per bird, Kelway said. They won’t be released back in the rain, and the forecast for early next week calls for more.
Storms that started Monday have already dropped up to 8 inches of rain in Los Angeles County, the National Weather Service reported.
The long-beaked pelicans weigh 8 to 10 pounds, stand about 4 feet tall and have a 6- to 7-foot wingspan. They are a symbol of the Pacific Coast, and were recently removed from California’s endangered species list, Kelway said.
Treatment costs about $500 a bird, Kelway said.
Those interested in helping are urged to donate funds to the center by going on its Web site at www.ibrrc.org.