Starving Dalmatian pelicans get a bite to eat at a shipyard near Makhachkala, Russia. (Sergei Rasulov/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Authorities are scrambling to save hundreds of starving and endangered Dalmatian pelicans in Russia after the Caspian Sea froze for the first time in years.

Hundreds of the gray-white birds with curly neck feathers are bumping into one another in a patch of unfrozen water at a shipyard near Makhachkala, a city in Russia’s Dagestan province.

About 20 birds have died of hunger despite hundreds of pounds of fish that government officials are buying daily to feed the flock, Dagestan’s Nature Protection Ministry spokesman Arslan Dydymov said Tuesday.

Fewer than 1,400 Dalmatian pelicans, the world’s largest, live in southern Russia.

The birds flew to Makhachkala last week from the frozen deltas of the Volga and Terek rivers up north. Local residents lined up at the Makhachkala shipyard with bread to feed the birds, but they were blocked because that kind of food isn’t good for the pelicans.

“We did not let them in for the sake of the pelicans,” chief guard Magomed Eldarov said.