University of California (Davis), June 2, 2014: California brown pelicans’ breeding numbers are in drastic decline this year [which] could indicate that an El Niño event could occur sooner than expected, or that other factors are imperiling the once-endangered species. The search for food — mostly anchovies, sardines, and other small, schooling fishes — resulted in thousands of brown pelicans flocking to food hot spots along the southern California coast and as far north as Washington this May, about six weeks earlier than expected. [...] The survey [was] completed in late May [...] The scientists found that this year, areas that typically host hundreds or thousands of nesting pairs held only a few hundred at most, and in some cases zero nesting pairs. Low breeding numbers are often associated with El Niño conditions, which bring warmer waters to the Eastern Pacific Ocean. However, this year, the pelicans began showing signs of trouble well ahead of this summer, when El Niño was predicted to begin. Anderson is not sure why this is occurring [...] This spring, when the birds arrived at breeding colonies at all, many arrived late. Of those who nested, many abandoned their nests when they could not find enough food to sustain their stay.
Associated Press, June 2, 2014: Calif. brown pelican breeding population plunges [...] The survey in Mexico’s Gulf of California — where about 90 percent of the pelicans typically breed and raise their chicks — found that areas that typically host hundreds or thousands of nesting pairs held far fewer, and a few places were completely empty, the [UC Davis] statement said. [...] Last fall, scientists said they were concerned that a crash in the West Coast population of sardines might also be starving the brown pelicans.
Survey Findings: At Angel de la Guarda, there were 120 nesting pairs and zero young in 2014, which is less than 2 percent of the past four years’ average [In 2006 there were] 3,905 young on the island. At Isla San Luis, there were 465 nesting pairs producing 16 young in 2014, compared with 5,400 nesting pairs and 5,940 young in 2006. At Isla Piojo, there were 70 nesting pairs and zero young in 2014 [...] compared with 600 nesting pairs and 660 young in 2006.
UC Davis professor emeritus and wildlife biologist Dan Anderson, who monitored brown pelicans for the past 46 years: “That’s what we call a failure, a bust. The bottom dropped out. [...] Populations do decline somewhat during El Niño years, but not nearly as drastically as what we saw widespread this year. During most El Niño events we’ve seen, numbers of nesting attempts drop by at least half to two-thirds, and production goes down, too. But it drops from thousands to hundreds, not to 10 or less.”
See also: Professor: Just 1% of usual number of baby California pelicans; "Nearly complete failure to breed"; Only 20 newborns in area where 10,000 expected -- Expert: 'Flabbergasted' by what's happening in Malibu, "I’ve never seen anything like that" (AUDIO)
Published: June 2nd, 2014 at 7:59 pm ET