California Brown Pelican Survey

Bird enthusiasts join coast-wide effort on May 6 to count brown pelicans

Birding blitz along Pacific coast will aid conservation of an iconic species

Bird enthusiasts in California, Oregon, Washington, and Baja California, Mexico, will participate in a coast-wide survey of California brown pelicans the evening of May 6 in an effort to better understand the status of this popular, yet troubled seabird. The survey is conducted with the intent to gather information needed to understand how potential threats from changes in weather patterns, prey availability, or changes in habitat or contaminants could impact California brown pelican populations over time.

The survey is a joint project of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird program, state agencies, and the Audubon network. All participants will report their observations and photos through eBird, an online database of bird observations providing scientists, researchers and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance. The survey protocol was designed by experts to capture a comprehensive snapshot of pelican numbers and age distribution.

"This is the beginning of a long-term data set, that in combination with other monitoring efforts, will help us answer the questions we have about California brown pelican populations, and the overall health of this particular subspecies," said Robert McMorran, fish and wildlife biologist with the Service’s Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office.

The survey is focused primarily on coastal roosts where pelicans settle for the night and are most easily counted and photographed.

“Our hope is these volunteers can answer some important questions will help us ensure a future for this terrific bird,” said Anna Weinstein, Audubon California’s marine program director. “We can channel our enthusiasm for this bird into an understanding of how pelicans are responding at a population level to changes in their ocean world.”

The California brown pelican subspecies (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) was removed from the Endangered Species list in 2009. The most recent population estimate is 70,680 breeding pairs. The majority of the subspecies breeds in the Gulf of California, Mexico; 15-20 percent of the population breeds at the U.S. Channel Islands. In recent years, scientists have observed poor productivity of California brown  pelicans at the Channel Islands and across the subspecies’ 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.

“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


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

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

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

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