Young pelicans marked with numbered leg bands and released under Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco have been photographed as far away as Vancouver Island, B.C., says a California bird rescuer.
The banding study by California non-profit International Bird Rescue surprised some researchers because it revealed some California Brown Pelicans fly north, not south for the winter.
It also showed that juvenile pelicans, less than a year old, were capable of flying 800 miles to British Columbia over the course of several months.
"That's flying 50 miles a day, and that's freaking interesting," Karen Benzel of International Bird Rescue said in a phone interview Tuesday evening. "This is a juvenile, like 6 to 9 months old, practically, not a mature pelican."
Brown pelicans are common along the Washington Coast, but populations are largest in summer months.
A young pelican known as P16 made a San Francisco-to-San Pedro flight in December, Benzel said. The bird was treated for fishing line injuries at the nonprofit's Cordelia center and released with blue band number P16 at Fort Baker under the Golden Gate on Dec. 10. The same bird was spotted and reported at Fort Baker on Dec. 15. A sighting and photos showed the same bird in San Pedro on Dec. 22.
Earlier in 2012, two first-year birds, known as R36 and R41, were rehabilitated for fishing tackle injuries and fish-oil contamination and released under the Golden Gate Bridge on Aug. 23, Benzel said.
The birds were sighted multiple times by researchers and birdwatchers on Vancouver Island, B.C., in November, Benzel said.
"We knew that pelicans follow the fish, and that many feed along the coast of Oregon and Washington," Jay Holcomb, IBR director and head researcher of the Blue-Banded Pelican Project, said of R36 and R41 in a prepared statement.
"But we are surprised that these young pelicans, who survived life-threatening, human-caused injuries, flew that far north so quickly after their release," Holcomb said.
Researchers at the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve on Vancouver Island were excited to spot R36 and R41 when they arrived in mid-November, Benzel said. They took photos of the birds, noted the numbers on their blue bands, and reported them to Holcomb, Benzel said.
R36 first came to bird rescuers' attention with fishing tackle injuries in July. R41 first came to bird rescuers' attention in July, cold and weak from fish oil contamination from a public fish-cleaning station.
International Bird Rescue has been rehabilitating California Brown Pelicans and other aquatic birds around the world since 1971, according to the nonprofit's website.
From 1971 to 1989, bird rescuers noted two factors affecting Brown Pelicans. The California Brown Pelican population was decimated by the use of DDT, which put them on the Endangered Species List.
In November 2009, Brown Pelicans were taken off the Endangered Species list.
Since then, more than 1,000 pelicans have been blue-banded and 220 individual birds have been reported from Mexico to British Columbia.
Researchers have been placing bands or rings on birds for scientific purposes since the late 19th century, according to historians.
International Bird Rescue officials are publicizing their recent findings because they hope more individuals up and down the Pacific Coast will help keep track of blue-banded pelicans, Benzel said.
"We need the help," Benzel said. "The public is our eyes."
The IBR has wildlife rescue centers in Fairfield and San Pedro. For more information about the recent Blue Banded Pelican contest and associated research, visit http://blog.bird-rescue.org.