Pelicans Post Refugio

It has been over one year since we released 12 oiled and rehabilitated, and 8 control brown pelicans equipped with satellite tags. After the Refugio oil spill in Santa Barbara, the OWCN decided to follow 12 pelicans after release to try to better document survival and movement patterns of birds that were oiled and subsequently captured, cleaned, and rehabilitated. We also caught, tagged, and released 8 unoiled pelicans as controls for comparison.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know a little bit about these birds already. All of the pelicans, oiled and control, survived for a full 3 months. Nearly all of the oiled birds took long journeys; some moved a total distance of nearly 5000 km by the end of January! Several pelicans spent the fall on the Oregon coast or in Baja California. This is extremely valuable information, as it demonstrates that a pelican recently oiled and in captivity, as well as equipped with a harness and satellite tag, may travel over extended distances.

We also learned that many of these pelicans appeared to behave normally, at least at the coarse scale that we were able to measure. Traveling long distances is great, but it’s not everything; we want to know *where* they traveled. If we’d gotten transmissions from Kansas City or Edmonton, we’d be a little concerned! But in fact, all of the tagged birds moved up or down the coast and frequented sites where pelicans live. In other words, our tagged birds behaved like California pelicans.

One year later, two control and one oiled bird are still transmitting. At least one oiled bird that “disappeared” may have a faulty tag; it came back to life (!!) briefly last month, and seemed to have perfectly normal pelican movements over a couple of days before it stopped transmitting again. In addition, we’ve gotten a couple reports of tagged birds being spotted in the wild doing well, despite the fact that they stopped transmitting months ago. That means that some of the birds that we thought had died might just have faulty tags, or lost their tags.

See the first map below for the locations of the three birds still transmitting. There is one in dark red north of LA, one in San Diego, and one on the northwestern coast of the Gulf of California.

early aug 2016In the next map, you can see a close-up of the bird in Ventura. This is a control pelican. In the first map, it appears as a single dot, but when you zoom in, you can see that it’s making typical flights back and forth across Ventura harbor. close up N12 aug 2016We’ll be analyzing data from this study for some time, but the initial findings are pretty fascinating! Knowing that many of these birds survive oiling and captivity and go on to live in their “homes” is a thrill, a relief, a comfort, and a vindication of all that we do.


P.S. Birders, keep reporting those green-banded pelicans here!! Blue-banded pelicans can be reported to our partners at International Bird Rescue here.


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