January 6, 2009

Mystery ailment hits Calif. brown pelicans

Scientists are trying to determine what is causing California brown pelicans to become disoriented, wandering onto freeways or hitting boats.

Scores of birds have been treated at rescue centers, The Orange County Register reported. In addition to disorientation, the pelicans' symptoms include weakness, and many are severely emaciated.

One pelican actually hit a car in Los Angeles, said Rebecca Dmytryk of Wildrescue. One pelican hit a boat in Monterey last night.

Scientists say some of the symptoms are consistent with poisoning with domoic acid, a toxin that sometimes affects ocean mammals and sea birds. They are also considering a virus or toxic substances washed into the water after recent fires.

Maybe the weather has been particularly difficult on them, said Heather Nevill, a veterinarian with the International Bird Rescue Center. Maybe the fish stocks are particularly low. It might be more than one thing, all coming together at once.