San Francisco- Bird enthusiasts in California, Oregon, Washington, and Baja Mexico, are invited to join a West coast-wide effort to count California brown pelicans on Saturday, October 15, 2016 during the last four hours of daylight to help conservationists determine the health of the iconic species. Data collected from this survey will help scientists and researchers understand how threats to the species, like changes in weather patterns and prey availability, could impact pelican populations over the long term.
“Data collected in both the spring and fall will help us understand breeding activity over time,” said Robert McMorran, fish and wildlife biologist with the Service’s Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office. “During the spring, the pelicans are likely to be at their breeding locations, like the Channel Islands. During the fall, we would anticipate higher numbers at roost sites along the coast. With data collected at both times of year over time, we will be able to document results of past breeding seasons, based on the number of juveniles and adults present on the breeding islands and the coast.”
There are two ways for the public to participate in the citizen science survey. Birdwatchers can find an established group on the survey website, http://ca.audubon.org/brownpelicansurvey and contact the roost coordinator, or interested individuals can visit any site along the coast, during the same time frame, and report their observations through a portal in eBird, an online database of bird observations providing real-time data about bird distribution and abundance.
“With key prey resources for pelicans at new lows, there has never been a more important time to better understand the status of these birds,” said Anna Weinstein, marine program director at Audubon California. “We are grateful to all the people who are stepping up to provide information critical for understanding and protecting this amazing seabird.”
The California brown pelican subspecies’ (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) numbers plummeted in the 1970s due to the impacts of DDT and other pesticides. In 1970 only a single chick survived out of 552 nests at the U.S. Channel Islands’ Anacapa Island off the southern California coast. That same year, the species was listed as federally endangered. DDT was banned in 1972, and so began the fight to save the California brown pelican from extinction.
In 2006, the Service estimated the entire California brown pelican population at around 70,680 nesting pairs, equating to 141,360 breeding birds. Due to this remarkable recovery, in November 2009, the California brown pelican was removed from the endangered species list but remained protected under the provisions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Since delisting, conservation groups have collected intermittent population data on brown pelican populations. Through those surveys, scientists have observed poor productivity of pelicans on Anacapa Island at the Channel Islands and across the species’ range. Changes in the population of key forage species including anchovy and sardines raise questions and concerns about the health of the breeding pelican population.
Although numbers suggest a population decline, this limited data does not necessarily indicate a long-term trend. By collecting this important data, scientists hope to understand how potential threats from changes in weather patterns, to changes in prey availability, changes in habitat or contaminants, could impact California brown pelican populations over the long term.
“This pelican survey really illustrates one of the key strengths of eBird,” said Brian Sullivan, co-leader of the program for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “eBird allows us to take a snapshot of a single species at a specific point in time across a wide geographical area. The only way to achieve that is to tap into the eyes and ears of bird watchers who are dedicated to gathering data that can then be used to preserve and protect the birds we all care about.”
To get more information on how to participate in the brown pelican survey, including roost sites near you, please visit ca.audubon.org/brownpelicansurvey.
About Audubon California
Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 150,000 members and supporters in California and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society.
More information is available at www.ca.audubon.org.
About U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.
About Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Cornell Lab’s website at http://www.birds.cornell.edu.