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Scruffy Scoters and a Brown Pelican "event"

If you've been out to a beach recently, you may have seen numerous bird carcasses. While I've written about this topic in the past and how to best report dead birds, it's a different thing entirely if you find a bird on the beach and it's alive!


I've been noticing and getting email inquires about these particular birds that are coming ashore on sandy beaches in Monterey Bay right now. These are Surf Scoters, a type of seaduck, and while they are commonly seen in Monterey Bay in the fall and winter, they should be migrating north to breed up in the arctic. What cool guys (see range map below). But if you've got crummy feather quality, it's going to be hard to fly, dive in 50°F water to forage, or get a mate once you get up to the breeding grounds. The process of molting, or replacing feathers (either specific tracts or whole sections) on a bird's body, is an energetically demanding process, and if you're not finding the right type or amount of quality food, you just might look scruffy all spring or not even be able to migrate at all!


These two Surf Scoters initially caught my eye at Del Monte Beach in Monterey on a busy, sunny afternoon, where seeing a waterbird sitting on land within 20 feet of playing children first made me concerned. But watching these birds actively preen, ambulate (get up and walk out of the water, stretch and flap their wings), and looking closely at the feathers, I felt confident that they weren't injured, oiled or entangled, just trying to get a little warm and attempting to preen the brown and frayed feathers into compliance. I observed them then left them alone.

On the flip-side, poor Brown Pelicans are having a rough time! A recent article in Lookout Santa Cruz quotes a wildlife rehabilitator from Native Animal Rescue in Santa Cruz saying that while it's not Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), starvation and possibly domoic acid poisoning is causing a big influx of Brown Pelicans into rehabilitation facilities along the California coast. The SPCA for Monterey County has received over 80 Brown Pelicans just since mid-April, many of which have since been transferred to International Bird Rescue. If you see a Brown Pelican in an odd location or see one on the beach who is not moving for beach walkers, give the SPCA a call. If you live in Santa Cruz County, call Native Animal Rescue. And even if you don't find any birds yourself, please send some funds to your local wildlife rehabilitation facility - they are nonprofits, not run by Fish & Wildlife or your city like some people think. They are trying to save lives on shoestring budgets!


If you are able to walk up to a seabird on the beach and it's doesn't notice you or it is afraid and trying to get away but can't move, then you should definitely call the SPCA Wildlife Center at 831-264-5427. Thanks for looking out for the local birds!

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