Though the pelican is featured on the state flag, by the early 1960s, brown pelicans had been pushed to extinction along the Louisiana Gulf Coast by DDT and other pesticides. In 1968 pelicans were reintroduction to Louisiana from colonies in Florida. Despite ups and downs, the pelicans have slowly returned. Last year the brown pelican was taken off the endangered species list. With the Deepwater Horizon disaster, that could all change, once again.
Pelicans, Back From Brink of Extinction, Face Oil Threat
For more than a decade, the hundreds of brown pelicans that nested among the mangrove shrubs on Queen Bess Island west of here were living proof that a species brought to the edge of extinction could come back and thrive.
The island was one of three sites in Louisiana where the large, long-billed birds were reintroduced after pesticides wiped them out in the state in the 1960s.
But on Thursday, 29 of the birds, their feathers so coated in thick brown sludge that their natural white and gray markings were totally obscured, were airlifted to a bird rehabilitation center in Fort Jackson, the latest victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Another dozen were taken to other rescue centers.
Six more pelicans were brought here on Friday, and as visitors to the center looked on, the birds huddled together in makeshift plywood cages and, in their unnatural stillness, looked as if the gooey muck had frozen them solid. The 29 pelicans brought in Thursday were being treated in hot rooms by workers in protective clothing.
“The pelicans are in dire trouble,” said Doug Inkley, a senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, who worried that the oil spill could put an end to the bird’s recovery in Louisiana.