Monday, May 3, 2010

Pelicans Endangered Again

Nicknamed the Pelican State, Louisiana was once home to thriving colonies of brown pelicans. The state seal and early flag featured these nesting birds with their deep beaks for scooping up fish.

In the early 1900s about 50,000 brown pelicans lived along the Louisiana coast. Less than fifty years later, that number had dropped to 5000. By 1963 not one nesting pair could be found. The major cause was the pesticide DDT. The Mississippi River had carried it from the farms to the pelican nesting areas. DDT thinned out the eggshells, so when pelicans sat on their nests, they destroyed their eggs.

After DDT was banned, a pelican restocking program began. Wildlife refuges were set up on the barrier islands, and by the early 2000s, the pelicans had begun their return.

Now the pelicans are facing another danger. The massive amounts of oil spewing into the water off the Louisiana shore are imperiling wildlife, especially on the barrier islands and marshes.

According to the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC), a dime-sized drop of oil is enough to kill a bird. Oil clumps a bird's feathers so it has no protection from the cold and it loses its buoyancy. A bird's instinct is to preen its feathers to remove the oil, which also harms its internal organs.

Birds can even die of stress when rescuers try to wash their feathers, so refuge workers give the birds food, water, and medical treatment before they dip them into baths of dishwashing detergent and water. IBRRC estimates that it takes 300 gallons of water to clean one oil-soaked bird.

Oil isn't the only threat to the endangered pelicans. Leap Books author Bonnie J. Doerr is busy writing Pelican Peril, her third eco-mystery. Here's a picture of Bonnie helping refuge workers in the Florida Keys save some pelicans.

Find out more at Bonnie's blog, Bonnie Blogs Green.

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