Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Wash, a Flight and a Return to the Wild for Gulf Pelicans; Dozens of Birds Rescued from the Oil Slicks Were Released Tuesday

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Wash, a Flight and a Return to the Wild for Gulf Pelicans; Dozens of Birds Rescued from the Oil Slicks Were Released Tuesday

Article excerpt

Byline: TERRY DICKSON

BRUNSWICK - Seventy-two Louisiana brown pelicans rescued from the oil slicks in the Gulf were released into Glynn County's Plantation Creek on Tuesday.

The pelicans, captured as long as two weeks ago, had been cleaned of crude oil and were flown to Brunswick from New Orleans aboard a Coast Guard plane, three in each of 24 crates like those used to carry big dogs. After landing at Brunswick Glynn County Airport, the birds were placed in vans for the short trip to the Coast Guard Station south of Brunswick.

"Not only did the Coast Guard fly us here, they gave us this incredible release site," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife veterinarian Sharon Taylor, who was at the front of every crate as the pelicans flew or splashed to freedom in clean water.

The original plans were to release the birds in Texas, but Tropical Storm Alex - expected to make landfall as a hurricane today - compelled the participating agencies to change those plans, said Taylor, who is chief of the agency's Environmental Contaminants Division.

The Coast Guard brought in reservists for extra help carrying the crates from the air-conditioned vans along the long catwalk to the dock where Coast Guard and Georgia Department of Natural Resources boats were moored.

Taylor explained that the birds' natural behavior makes them susceptible to getting coated with crude from the former Deepwater Horizon rig.

"They dive into the oil slick," she said.

Some of the birds didn't exactly seize their freedom - especially the juvenile birds, easily distinguishable by their brown heads.

When Taylor and the Coast Guardsmen and others who assisted her eased the tops off the crates, some of the birds shuffled to the back. Some hopped out hesitantly, one at a time, as if afraid of the water. Others quickly flew away.

The first three floated together near the middle of the creek and others joined them in a flock. Some flew east a short distance toward St. Simons Island before flying back and gathering in a flock of about 20 on the creek. Others flew west toward the Sidney Lanier Bridge over the wide Brunswick River a short distance away.

It was all impressive to youngsters who watched.

"I'm supposed to be getting senior pictures, but I'm over here," Faith McDowell said watching with her best friend, Emily Denis.

"Really cool," Emily said. "They look very happy."

Emily's mother, Carol, said her husband, a Coast Guardsman, called to say they were going to release a pelican.

"We were shocked to get here and see there were 24," she said. "I'm glad to see they're healthy, and I hope they stay that way."

Hayden Zitzewitz, 9, came all the way from St. …

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