SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (KVEO) — Chances are, if you have visited South Padre Island early morning you have seen a flock of Brown pelicans gracefully soaring just above waves at sunrise, their wings skimming surf.
You have probably also seen them diving for fish or perched contentedly on local fishing piers.
When I was a youngster in the Rio Grande Valley, you rarely if ever saw a Brown pelican. By the late 1960s and early ’70s, there were less than 100 Brown pelicans in Texas.
Retired Audubon and United States Fish and Wildlife biologist, David Blankinship, remembers how few remained.
“Well, there just almost weren’t any. We thought there were about 35 possibly certainly less than 100 Brown pelicans on the Texas coast.”
During the 1920s and 30s, Brown pelicans were shot and their nesting colonies destroyed, because of the mistaken belief that pelicans competed with man for fish.
In later years, the widespread use of harmful pesticides, especially DDT, devastated once numerous pelicans and other birds at the top of the food chain.
When Blankinship went to work for Audubon in 1970 to try and save Brown pelicans from disappearing forever from the Texas coast no one knew if it was possible for their recovery.
However, with the banning of DDT in 1972 and protection from disturbance on their nesting islands, Brown pelicans began to make a slow recovery. There are now some 12,000 breeding pairs along the Texas coast.
“I sort of count that as one of the highlights of my career. When I go down to the coast and see those flocks of pelicans going by it is amazing knowing how low they were,” said Blankenship.
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.”