Pelicans being released in Cameron

August 6, 2010 at 11:04 pm

*published Aug. 6, 2010

Hammond Rehabilitation Center and state wildlife officials release 15 brown pelicans on Rabbit Island in Cameron Parish on Thursday. BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

CAMERON — State and federal wildlife officials and workers with Hammond Rehabilitation Center on Thursday held the state’s first release of brown pelicans affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil leak.

The 15 birds were released on Rabbit Island, about 5 1/2 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico. Previous releases took place in Florida and Georgia.

“We chose this area because it was never impacted by the oil spill, so these birds have less of a chance of being impacted again,” said Tom Hess, a biologist at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Grand Chenier.

Hess, who oversees the brown pelican program at the refuge, said Rabbit Island has served as a nesting colony since 2003. It has about 500 nesting pairs of pelicans that have produced about 1,000 young birds, he said.

Hess said the oldest colony is on Racoon Island, just south of Houma.

“In general, this is a similar habitat because it’s a coastal marsh, the same estuary system and has similar and ample food resources,” said Mike Carloss, a state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist from Baton Rouge.

To see video of the pelican release, CLICK HERE.

For the next 30 days, wildlife officials will feed the birds menhaden, or pogies, and monitor their health and how they interact with the wild population on the island, said Carrie Salyers, a biologist at Rockefeller.

“Most of the birds are pretty young, so we want to make sure they are eating properly and are able to avoid predators,” Salyers said. The newly released birds are marked with a dye.

The brown pelican program was started at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in 1968, after the state bird’s population was devastated by the pesticide DDT, Hess said.

“The birds were brought in from Florida and since then, more than 380,000 pelicans have been reproduced,” he said.

When the birds were found they were taken to the Hammond Rehabilitation Center, where they were evaluated by a veterinarian and then cleaned, said Rhonda Murgatroyd.

“We had planned to bring about 40 birds … but the vets decided to keep the majority for another day of evaluation,” she said.

To limit their stress, the birds were brought to Cameron at about 5 a.m. in a climate-controlled trailer and in covered cages.

“This heat is a real issue, so coming this early in the morning also keeps the birds from being on a hot boat surface,” Murgatroyd said. “We wanted to get them in the water where they can keep cool.”

She said she expects 40 or more pelicans to be released today.



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