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Appearance of brown pelican flock in Victoria's Inner Harbour is 'likely due to climate change'

Dec 06 2012
A flock of brown pelicans caused a flap in the Inner Harbour. The birds are not usually seen this far north. 

A flock of brown pelicans caused a flap in the Inner Harbour. The birds are not usually seen this far north.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , Times Colonist

A large contingent of brown pelicans has dropped into Victoria harbour for what's expected to be a short stay.

About two dozen pelicans, including at least two adults, are hanging out on rocky outcroppings - from Ogden Point and Fishermen's Wharf to the small island in the harbour where a wind sock assists the takeoff and landing of float planes.

It's not the first time brown pelicans have been spotted in Greater Victoria, but there are more of them than Victoria birder Ann Nightingale has seen at one time.

The range of the brown pelican has been moving northward up the coast over the years "likely due to climate change," Nightingale said.

Pesticides threatened pelican populations in the 1970s but the numbers have rebounded. Current estimates of the brown pelicans are 650,000.

The birds have been in the area for a week now, which suggests they're sustaining themselves on fish, Nightingale said.

Pelicans average 120 centimetres in length, weigh up to 5.5 kilograms and have wingspans up to 2.5 metres.

Their most distinctive feature is a very large bill, 28 to 35 centimetres long, with a pouch on the bottom for scooping fish from the ocean.

The pelicans fly to a considerable height before plunging into the ocean to catch their prey.

The birds are not expected to spend the winter here - pelicans don't do well in cold weather. An American white pelican was grounded by cold weather in Winnipeg last year and was shipped in January to Wild ARC, the SPCA wild animal rehabilitation centre in Metchosin.

The bird wasn't the only pelican to spend the winter at the facility.

It was joined by a brown pelican injured after being attacked by crows in Prince Rupert.

The brown pelican was later released off the shore of Metchosin while the white pelican was flown by commercial airliner back to Winnipeg.

It appears there may be an injured brown pelican among the visitors, because one has been seen with a drooping wing, said Nightingale. The bird may be captured and taken to Wild ARC for treatment, she said.

The fact there are adult brown pelicans among the flock is a first, Nightingale added.

"It's usually the youngsters that get moved farther afield," she said.

"This may just be something that becomes more common in the future."

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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