Imagine Texas without our beloved Brown pelicans. That was the stark reality not so many years ago. As Richard Moore explains, without our care, they could disappear again.
Just about all of us who have visited South Padre Island early in the morning have witnessed a flock of Brown pelicans gracefully soaring just above the waves at sunrise, their wings seeming to skim the surf.
You have probably also seen them diving for fish or perched happily on local fishing piers.
When I was a youngster in the Valley, you rarely if ever saw a brown pelican. By the late 1960’s and early 70’s, there were estimated to be less than 100 Brown pelicans in Texas.
During the 1920’s and 30’s brown pelicans were shot and their nesting colonies destroyed, because of the mistaken belief that pelicans competed with man for fish.
In later years, the widespread use of the harmful pesticide DDT devastated pelicans and other birds at the top of the food chain, but after banning DDT in 1972 they began a slow comeback.
While Brown pelicans can be seen regularly now around the Lower Laguna Madre, they have only nested sporadically on islands in the bay during recent decades. In the past several years, the two dozen or so pairs that have successfully nested annually at Bahia Grande have raised fewer young than are being hit by vehicles on Highway 48 during winter cold fronts.
At least 150 brown pelicans were killed during the winter of 2016-2017, and if not for the actions of dedicated pelican rescuers more than 200 would have been lost this winter already.
Hopefully, the Texas Department of Transportation will soon remove the concrete barriers proven to cause the deadly downdrafts plummeting pelicans to their death. If not, history may repeat itself and our mistreatment of these iconic birds will once again doom them.