Brown pelicans will be OK, expert says

A friend of mine who is a marine scientist on the Mississippi Gulf Coast told me recently that the brown pelican population is strong enough to survive the oil spill.

“They’re pretty smart birds,” he said.

So, why, if they are so smart, did so many of them get caught up in the oil spill?

The answer, he said, is simple. It was nesting season. The pelicans were nesting — in other words, many were taking care of their nests, their eggs, their young ones. If it hadn’t been for that, the pelicans would have flown far enough away to avoid getting caught in the oil.

But because they were trying to protect their nests, their babies, they stayed. They got oiled. They died.

OK, so not all of them died. But hundreds, or maybe thousands, did. That kind of loss seems scary to me, especially since the brown pelican was just delisted as an endangered species last year (Inadvertent DDT poisoning in the 1950s and ’60s caused the rapid decline in numbers before the pesticide was banned.)

But we have to stay focused on the living, my friend said. The species is strong. The species will survive.

So here are the facts on the living pelicans: The US Fish & Wildlife Service reports that about 2,000 oiled birds were found alive (the latest update has no mention of how many are pelicans). Of the 2,000 living birds, about half have been rehabilitated and released.

Also among the living: The many volunteers who have helped save the pelicans. Many thanks for all your hard work.

Oil impacted Brown pelican is being cleaned at a Wildlife Rehabilitation center in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. Courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife/Greg Thompson.

Top photo: Close view of a brown pelican chick in nest. Courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife/John Turner.

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