Several California brown pelicans released at Fort Baker near Sausalito have made their way to Mexico and surprisingly as far north as British Columbia, according to officials at the International Bird Rescue Research Center.
In 2009, the organization began putting blue and white bands on pelicans it had rehabilitated. So far, about 1,000 pelicans have been banded statewide, with roughly a third of those being released at Fort Baker.
"Word has been getting out about our program and a lot more people are reporting sightings of the pelicans," said Karen Benzel, center spokeswoman.
The sightings are adding to the knowledge about the pelicans, which were listed as an endangered species as recently as 2009.
"What excites everyone involved is the ability to learn the history of the birds, which before this band study was difficult to impossible," said Jay Holcomb, the center's director and head researcher of the Blue-Banded Pelican Project.
Fort Baker is a prime location to release the birds because they can go to the ocean or to the bay where other pelicans are, researchers said.
Two birds released from Fort Baker in August have helped paint a picture of pelicans' travels.
A researcher at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve on Vancouver Island, B.C. was the first to spot the birds. He took photos and took to the Internet to find information about the blue-banded birds not typically seen among the elephant seals, snowy
owls and whales in the icy waters of the Salish Sea.
"We knew that pelicans follow the fish, and that many feed along the coast of Oregon and Washington, but we were surprised that these young pelicans, who survived life-threatening, human-caused injuries, flew that far north so quickly after their release," said Holcomb of the center, which has bird rehabilitation operations in Cordelia in Solano County.
The travels north give a different perspective on pelicans that are typically associated with warmer climates and are prevalent in southern regions such as the Southeastern Seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico, Southern California and Mexico, Holcomb said.
"We were very surprised these birds flew to British Columbia," he said.
The brown pelican faced extinction in California 50 years ago, but has returned in record numbers to places like the Farallon Islands in recent years. The pelican was listed as endangered by the federal government in 1970, but its rebound caused the federal government to de-list it in 2009.
The population recovered after DDT, a toxic pesticide, was banned. The poison would wash into waterways from fields and accumulate in the fish pelicans ate, causing the birds' egg shells to become thin and dooming embryos.
The pelicans seemingly had a rough 2012. During the summer months hundreds fell ill around the Bay Area, ending up dazed on the Golden Gate Bridge, a supermarket parking lot in San Anselmo and at McNears Beach in San Rafael, among other sites.
Many of the animals were sick and emaciated. The phenomenon may indicate the species as a whole is doing well, because there are more of them, but the birds are competing for limited food sources, wildlife experts say.
"As the population recovers there are more young ones, food becomes scarce and they tend to spread out," Holcomb said. "That could be why they are going north."
International Bird Rescue is asking people who spot blue-banded pelicans to report them on its website: www.bird-rescue.org.
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