The driver was sober. The bird he hit may have been under the influence. A California brown pelican flew through the windshield of a motorist on the Pacific Coast Highway in Orange County Thursday, and wildlife officials said the bird was probably intoxicated by a chemical in the water.
Though toxicology tests take several weeks, the odd bird behavior was likely the result of poisoning from domoic acid, which has been found in the ocean in the area, said Lisa Birkle, assistant wildlife director at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach.
Birds can be poisoned through eating algae tainted by the acid.
The driver was not hurt. The pelican needed surgery for a broken foot, and also had a gash on its pouch.
"She's hanging in there," Birkle said.
The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center has received 16 calls of strange bird behavior in the past week, and was holding three other birds found disoriented and wandering through yards and in streets.
Domoic acid poisoning was the most likely cause of a 1961 invasion of thousands of frantic seabirds in Northern California that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's film "The Birds."
Those birds flew into buildings and pecked several humans.
Pelicans have excellent eyesight and they are unlikely to have flown into a car without some kind of intoxication, Birkle said.