Thursday, October 14, 2010

What Happened to Released Pelicans?

Pelicans Released at Aransas / US Coast Guard Photo

In the photo above, two Brown Pelicans that had been found coated in oil are being released at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. (The government chose to release pelicans in Texas or Florida rather than risk having them coated in oil again.) That photo was taken on June 27, and it was one of several releases over the course of the summer. So what has happened to the released birds since then? It seems that no one knows for sure since they have not been seen or reported since their release.
To date, 443 brown pelicans have been reported dead from the BP Chemical oil spill, according to the Unified Command Center's website, but the fate of pelicans moved into Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and Goose Island State Park remains unclear.

"No, we haven't come across any of the relocated ones, but no news is good news in this case," Texas Parks and Wildlife pollution biologist Alex Nunez said.

The relocated birds aren't being tracked, so the only way they would be found is if they were dead, Nunez said....

There have been no reports of the birds being sighted at either of the release points Goose Island park interpreter Mike Mullenweg said.

"The birds may have simply made their homes in the area or they may have migrated back to Louisiana," Mullenweg said.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge wildlife specialist Vicki Mueller took a more positive view. While the pelicans haven't been sighted in the area that doesn't mean they aren't still there, she said.

"These birds have short legs and they keep them tucked up under them most of the time. An aluminum ring can be kind of hard to spot," Mueller said.

Muelller said they accepted 104 pelicans - the most they could comfortably take in the area.
Another biologist interviewed for the article thought the lack of sightings meant that the pelicans had traveled back to Louisiana, where they could encounter some of the lingering oil on the beaches and marshes.

In addition, bands are generally reported when a bird is recaptured by a bander, flagged with a color marking of some sort, or found dead. (There are also rarer cases in which an observer can read the aluminum band's code on a living bird.) In order for a banded bird to be found dead, it has to die in a place where someone can find the carcass before scavengers carry it off. Since pelicans are large birds, the odds of being found when dead are somewhat in their favor, but I still would not assume that the bodies would be found if they did die at the refuge.