FWC works with local rehabilitator to save sick, stressed pelicans
Friday, January 21, 2011
Media contact: Karen Parker, 386-758-0525
Brown pelicans are being rescued by a local bird
sanctuary, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
(FWC) officials are working with the rehabilitators to assist in
The sick birds are being cared for by the Bird
Emergency Aid and Kare Sanctuary (BEAKS) in Jacksonville. FWC
officials are granting a temporary permit to BEAKS to feed the
pelicans where they have been congregating during the cold winter
"We are expecting the temperatures to drop again
this weekend, and there are sick and stressed birds congregated in
Mayport. BEAKS volunteers will be able to feed these specific birds
to keep them alive," said Roland Garcia, FWC regional director.
"There is a rule prohibiting the large-scale
feeding of pelicans, but we felt this exemption was necessary to
save these birds," Garcia said. "The permit allows BEAKS to provide
food to sick or injured pelicans outside their facility at specific
locations along the St. Johns River in Duval County until March
The rule prohibiting the feeding of large numbers
of pelicans was enacted to maintain healthy wild populations of
brown pelicans in Florida. Florida Administrative Code rule
68A-4.001 (4) states that the intentional feeding or the placement
of food that attracts pelicans and modifies the natural behavior of
the pelican so as to be detrimental to the survival or health of a
local population is prohibited. The intent of this rule is not to
regulate the occasional or the casual feeding of individual
"This rule provides an enforcement tool to resolve
situations when large-scale feeding could negatively influence the
health or survival of a pelican," explained Maj. Lee Beach, FWC
Approximately 30 pelicans have died in the Mayport
area, and experts suspect that cold weather stress and the
alteration of migration due to feeding may be to blame. The birds
have been gathering at a local seafood-processing plant, where fish
scraps are readily available.
According to Beach, "We are working with this
seafood-processing plant to do away with the debris the birds are
Because the birds have grown dependent on this
readily available food source, the problems have begun.
"Pelicans can become so used to their 'free lunch'
that they won't migrate south during the winter and, as a result,
become sick, suffer frostbite on their feet or die of exposure,
said Dr. Terry Doonan, an FWC biologist.
Some of the birds near Jacksonville appear to be in
"We have sent samples for testing to determine the
exact cause of the deaths," Doonan said. "Although we need to see
the results, there may be an explanation for the birds' condition.
A weakened bird may not get enough to eat and fail to preen
properly. Preening distributes oil to the feathers."
According to Doonan, "If a bird that has been
subjected to cold weather is unable to feed in its normal pattern
and is not preening properly, it can die."