RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The amazing recovery of the Brown pelican is one of the most remarkable wildlife success stories in the world.
On a recent evening, 2,377 Brown pelicans were counted flocking to their roost on a remote island in the newly restored Bahia Grande estuary northeast of the Port of Brownsville.
By the late 1960s and early 70s, there were less than 100 Brown pelicans in Texas, as the harmful pesticide DDT led to eggshell thinning resulting in virtually no successful nesting.
With the banning of DDT use in the United States in 1972 and protection from disturbance on nesting islands, Brown pelicans began a slow recovery. In 2009 they were taken off the endangered species list, and their numbers have now increased to more than 12,000 breeding pairs along the Texas coast.
Retired Audubon and United States Fish and Wildlife Biologist David Blankinship, who was instrumental in their recovery, recalls how few remained.
“Well, there just almost weren’t any. We thought there were about 35 possibly, certainly less than 100 on the Texas coast.”
Historically, Brown pelicans nested on the upper, middle, and lower Texas coast, but it has only been in recent years that they have returned to nest in the Lower Laguna Madre in significant numbers, and this spring a record 80 nests produced young on an island east of Laguna Vista.
However, Brown pelicans continue to face a multitude of threats from unchecked coastal development, unregulated wind turbine expansion, pollution, and vehicle strikes on poorly designed coastal highways.
The return of the Brown pelican is both a tragic saga of mankind’s near destruction of a species and the remarkable story of a species’ ability to recover if proper steps are taken.