PORTLAND, Ore.—California brown pelicans are begging for food on the Oregon coast rather than migrating south to breeding grounds.
An estimated 1,000 brown pelicans have remained on the state's coast, an unheard of number at a time of year when they should be in Mexico or Southern California. About 50 birds have died, but wildlife officials expect the number to escalate, said Dawn Grafe, visitor services manager for the Oregon Coast Wildlife Refuge Complex. …
Brown pelicans have steadily been expanding north. They typically migrated from Oregon and Washington in October or November, but they lingered until late December last winter. No one is certain why there are still here in late January, but theories range from the weather to an abundance of bait fish in early winter that enticed them to stay. Strong winds and severe storms have limited the pelicans' ability to hunt and dive for food that has since been pushed by currents to deeper waters, Grafe said.
"They don't have the energy," Grafe said. "They're so emaciated, so starving."
So the pelicans try to survive on bread crumbs or anything else they can get from humans. Typically unapproachable, the birds are surrounding visitors who come to see the breeding plumage—a look not seen in summer months.
Karen Munson of Brookings, who describes herself as a casual bird-watcher, saw about a dozen pelicans Monday at the Port of Brookings Harbor. She said some walked right up to her Jeep Wrangler, close enough to touch if she were inclined to roll down the window, which she wasn't.
"They do go right up to people," she said. "I saw one of them pull a man's jacket."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has urged residents not to feed the pelicans, saying it will further disrupt their migration patterns. People who find a starving or injured bird are asked to leave it alone and contact a wildlife rehabilitation center, such as the Astoria-based Wildlife Center of the North Coast or the Bandon-based Free Flight Bird Rehabilitation.