HARLINGEN, Texas — The rush of wind from passing cars briefly lifts lifeless wings as carcasses of 19 Brown pelicans lay strewn across Highway 48 earlier this week between Brownsville and Port Isabel near Gayman channel.
The deadly scenario has been tragically repeated for some 10 years now along this stretch of busy roadway as pelicans fly into strong northerly winds while attempting to reach their roosting site in the Bahia Grande Unit of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
Since record keeping began in 2016, more than 500 pelicans have been killed and over 300 rescued.
As in past years, pelicans continue to crash onto the roadway unable to regain flight. It was thought a deadly turbulence or vortex was created by strong northerly winds hitting a concrete barrier along the Bahia.
After years of study, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) removed the solid barrier early last year replacing it with a flow thru design a mile long costing $2.5 million that was intended to eliminate the problem.
However, efficacy of the replacement barrier is questionable as approximately 94 pelicans plummeted to the highway during this last norther. The death toll would have been horrific if not for efforts of volunteers who as in years past risked their lives to remove stranded pelicans from the roadway.
One of those volunteers, Willy Cupit, Coastal Ecologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, rescued a pelican struck by a vehicle.
“We’ve still got a problem out here. Unfortunately, we still have not fixed it all the way yet.”
The injured pelican was taken to the Gladys Porter Zoo where it was euthanized due to extensive injuries.
TxDOT is aware of the continuing crisis and is attempting to find a solution that will save pelicans while protecting motorists.