20 pelicans find new home in waters near Rockport
BY JJ VELASQUEZ
July 28, 2010 at 2:28 a.m.
The adult brown pelican is a large, dark gray-brown water bird with white about the head and neck. Immature birds are gray-brown above and on the neck, with white underparts. They can reach up to 8 pounds, and larger individuals have wing spreads of more than 7 feet.
In 1970, under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the brown pelican as endangered. A recovery plan was published in 1983.
In November 2009, the brown pelican was removed from the endangered species list.
BIRD RELEASES IN TEXAS
June 20 - 39 birds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
June 23 - 63 birds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
June 27 - 72 birds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
July 28 - 20 birds at Goose Island State Park
ROCKPORT - Barbara Brummitt and Barbie Cook were going for a walk in the park Wednesday when they were told the birds would be arriving.
"We didn't know they were bringing them down here," Cook said. "We just managed to luck out."
Brown pelicans, 20 in all, were released into Texas waters after being rescued and rehabilitated from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
It was the fourth release of rehabilitated birds in the state, but the Goose Island State Park release was the first to take place in a state facility.
After the birds' release back into the wild, Jonette Childs said the scene of the pelicans exiting kennels and preening in the water was beautiful. It moved her to tears, she said.
Now, 172 birds have been displaced from their oily homes and moved into Texas. Three releases took place at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in June.
"We would definitely like to see more releases within state park boundaries," Alex Nuñez, a pollution biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said after the release.
Nuñez assessed the birds' progress since the previous releases.
"Based on their behavior since the release, it seems they have been acclimating pretty nicely," he said.
All of the birds rehabilitated and released back into the wild were tagged to identify them as oil spill victims.
So far, 2,980 birds in the oil spill have died, according to the unified command response team's website. Many of the birds affected are brown pelicans. Not all of the deaths are necessarily attributed to the oil spill.
The Texas coast holds similarities to the birds' habitat in Louisiana and was deemed suitable for the displaced pelicans.
The plan is to spread the birds out in future releases so that areas do not become overpopulated with brown pelicans, a species that is native to Texas although the Louisiana pelicans belong to a different subspecies and are slightly different genetically.
The flock of 20 that was released Wednesday is the smallest number of birds yet to move to Texas from the oil spill. The birds were flown on a U.S. Coast Guard airplane into the Aransas County Airport and then driven in dog kennels to the state park's bayfront area.
Rhonda Murgatroyd, part of the wildlife response to the Gulf oil spill, has helped rehabilitate birds since the rig exploded in April. Murgatroyd said the number of birds released depends on how many are ready to be returned to the wild.
"If they're not ready today, they don't go," she said.
Responders aren't as busy as they were a month ago since the oil no longer seems to be leaking into the Gulf.
"Things have slowed down a lot," Murgatroyd said, adding that about 400 birds are housed in a Louisiana rehabilitation center.
Brummitt, a Dallas native who spends vacations at her home on Holiday Beach, said it was wonderful the birds reached a new home in Texas.
"This is a great place," she said. "I'm sure they'll love it. We love it."