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Junk food poses threat to brown pelicans.

Byline: Saul Hubbard The Register-Guard

Once endangered by the chemical DDT, brown pelicans on the Oregon Coast now face a new threat: the human food they are increasingly begging and scavenging for.

The birds, which migrate to Ore gon during the warm summer months and winter in Southern California and Mexico, aren't equipped to handle human junk food, scientists at the state Fish and Wildlife Department say, and it often makes them sick.

Sharnelle Fee, director of state department's Wildlife Center of the North Coast, said she has treated pelicans who have eaten hot dogs, doughnuts, potato chips and even chicken bones.

"When you have a hungry pelican, they're going to eat anything you put in front of them," Fee said. "These kinds of foods can actually kill them."

Scientists advise people to avoid feeding any wildlife, but they are particularly strident in their appeals about pelicans because the availability of human food may be encouraging them to stay on the north coast during the winter instead of heading south to their Baja California breeding grounds.

For reasons they can't yet fully explain, scientists have found that brown pelicans have been staying in Ore gon deeper into the winter over the past four years.

By doing so, pelicans, who traditionally feed by scooping up small fish in their large bills while diving into the ocean, expose themselves to winter storms.

The storms often force them ashore where they rely on human food. If it's readily available, they're less likely to fly south, Lee said.

But the birds don't deal well with colder nighttime temparatures, and can lose the webbing on their feet to frostbite. If pelicans lose more than half of their webbing, fish and wildlife employees must euthanize them, Lee said.

Brown pelicans were listed on the endangered species list until 2009, when authorities deemed that their numbers had sufficiently recovered from the effects of DDT, a pesticide that was banned in 1972.

During a September aerial survey this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted 17,495 brown pelicans on the Pacific Coast between Smith River, Calif., and Tunnel Island, Wash.
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Title Annotation:Local News; The once-endangered birds are staying later in the winter and getting sick from feeding by humans
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Nov 26, 2011
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