National Geographic : 2009 Oct
PHOTO: KYLE PATTON. NGM MAPS CONSERVATION Pelican Special Delivery When Louisiana lawmakers named the brown pelican the state bird, they missed an important point: There were no brown pelicans left there. That was in 1966, after years of pesticide runoff had ruined eggs and silenced once teeming coastal rookeries. Not long after the legislative gaffe, biologists set about reviving the state's nesting colonies, relocating young birds from Florida. It was a huge success: 350,000 pelicans were born in Louisiana after 1971. Then came the hurricanes. Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008 punished pelican-rich barrier islands along the Gulf Coast, badly damaging rookeries east of the Mississippi River mouth. The largest colony, with 5,500 nests, now lies to the west, on Raccoon Island, "a skinny little place barely above water," says University of Louisiana at Lafayette biologist Scott Walter. Given the recent frequency of Gulf storms, scientists are hurrying to once more establish new brown pelican rookeries. For each of the past two summers, Walter has rounded up a hundred snappish chicks on Raccoon and ferried them six miles east to Whiskey Island. He hopes the birds will imprint there and, in three years, instinctively return to build nests in the mangroves. The state bird deserves no less. ---To m O'Neill A nine-week-old brown pelican awaits its transfer from Raccoon Island to nearby Whiskey Island. 0mi 100 0km 100 Baton Rouge New Orleans LOUISIANA Isles Dernieres Whiskey I. Raccoon I. The Isles Dernieres Barrier Islands Refuge shelters half of Louisiana's 12,000 or so brown pelican nesting pairs.