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THE BIRDS ARE BACK PELICAN POPULATION REBOUNDS.

Byline: Erik Nelson Staff Writer

After suffering population declines caused by El Nino, large flocks of brown pelicans have returned to the Malibu and Ventura coastline, swooping and diving for anchovies, much to the delight of autumn beach visitors.

``We were talking about it last week as big flocks of them were going by,'' said Lorry Haddock, a Zuma Beach lifeguard. ``It just seems that, progressively, the numbers keep growing each year a little more.''

While typically Pelecanus occidentalis appear along the coast here after chicks leave the nest in late summer, the past two years of favorable weather in California and main nesting areas in Mexico have boosted their numbers vastly, biologists said.

``During the last El Nino, there was almost no nesting in the Gulf of California,'' said Daniel Anderson, a professor of wildlife biology at the University of California, Davis. ``We had a big year down there this summer.''

The problem was that El Nino created warmer-than-normal currents, keeping away the pelicans' food.

But La Nina caused cold water to rise from the depths of the Pacific, bringing prey closer to the surface and within easy striking distance, said Kimball Garrett, ornithology collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Southern California's famous local pelican population on Anacapa Island has also made a comeback, according to a recent count. For many, pelicans are a symbol of the early environmental movement because they were nearly wiped out 30 years ago by the pesticide DDT.

Frank Gress, a research biologist who, with Anderson, helped discover that the shells on Anacapa pelicans' eggs were fatally thin because of DDT in the food chain, recently made his 22nd annual census there. From Oct. 3 to Oct. 10, he counted nests, chick mortality, abandonment and productivity of each nest in the island rookeries.

Gress, who has yet to compile his results, said he counted roughly 4,500 nests, which is about 2,000 more than in 1998. During 1992, one of three earlier El Nino years, he counted only 1,500 nests.

The actual number of chicks fledged or leaving their nests varies with productivity, which in the 1990s averaged a little better than one chick per two nests. This year was more productive than last year, resulting in perhaps 2,700 chicks fledged.

In 1970, the year that authorities compelled Montrose Chemical Corp. to stop DDT releases that were flushed into the ocean, only one chick hatched from 500 nests.

This year's fledglings, combined with more than 3,000 from last year, have helped local populations make up for losses during El Nino, he said.

Dawn Smith, director of Animal Care at the California Wildlife Center in Malibu, said her operation typically has to nurse many sick or frail pelicans back to health.

``This year has been surprisingly few. We're actually used to seeing a large number of pelicans,'' she said. In August 1999, the center cared for 11 brown pelicans, but this August, only one bird was referred to its care.

CAPTION(S):

6 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) A pelican takes flight, above, at Malibu Lagoon State Beach, where the birds are once again proliferating after a dropoff during El Nino years. At left, a pelican fluffs its feathers as it stands at Berth 73 in San Pedro.

(3 -- 4 -- color) A pelican, above, spreads its wings and soars above Berth 73 in San Pedro. Below, this group of birds is part of a resurgence of pelicans.

(5 -- color) A sea lion is pestered by a pelican and gulls off the coast in San Pedro recently.

(6 -- color) A pelican dives for fish in the lagoon at Malibu lagoon State Beach

John McCoy/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 30, 2000
Words:619
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