A group of 16 California brown pelicans was released at Fort Baker near Sausalito on Wednesday morning after a month of rehabilitation in what has been a tough year for the species.
Over the past month pelicans have fallen ill and ended up on the Golden Gate Bridge, a supermarket parking lot in San Anselmo and McNears Beach in San Rafael, among other sites throughout the region.
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.
"We are still getting pelicans in, but not in the huge numbers that we had seen," said Michelle Bellizzi,manager at the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield, which organized the release.
The birds released at Horseshoe Bay near the Golden Gate Bridge included the pelican that was found stumbling around the Safeway parking lot in San Anselmo last month.
The birds were set free from five cages along the shore. Once the doors were opened the pelicans left in waves, flying over the water as onlookers, including several young children, cheered.
Many of the pelicans were juveniles that had just left the nest.
"They seem to be having a hard time getting food," Bellizzi said. "They need to learn how to do their foraging, and they have not caught on yet."
This time of year the birds are migrating north.
"These birds were found all over, in parking lots, at dumps; some had hooks in their bills, one had a cracked bill," said Isabel Luevano, a rehabilitation specialist at the rescue center. "They went through cleaning, feeding, medical treatment and surgeries."
Since mid-June, International Bird Rescue has taken in about 450 pelicans at its centers in the Bay Area and Southern California, part of a trend of increasing numbers of distressed California brown pelicans coming through its doors over the past several years.
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.
Contact Mark Prado via email at firstname.lastname@example.org