FWC Works With Local Rehabilitator to Save Sick, Stressed Pelicans | Environment

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FWC Works With Local Rehabilitator to Save Sick, Stressed Pelicans

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 effort.

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 weather.

“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 31.”

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 pelicans. 

“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 regional commander. 

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 feeding on.” 

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 poor condition.

“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.”

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