Calif. Pelicans Hit by Mystery Illness

Experts puzzled as dying birds turn up miles from coastal home
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 6, 2009 5:46 AM CST
A brown pelican comes in for a landing on a dock post next to others.   (AP Photo/Phil Coale)
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(Newser) – A mystery disease causing disoriented pelicans to crash to earth in unusual locations near the California coast has wildlife experts stumped, reports the Los Angeles Times. Bruised and fatigued birds are being found on highways and in backyards far from their usual seaside haunts. Some appear to be dying, but rescue centers are nursing many of the endangered birds back to health while labs test for toxins and viruses.

"We're a little freaked out by this," said a spokeswoman for a wildlife group. "We've never seen anything like it." Experts have ruled out starvation as a cause, noting that fish stocks are up. Some suspect the illness may be triggered by fire retardant chemicals washed out to sea after recent forest fires, or by lowered resistance to a particular toxin that usually kills young pelicans during warmer months.