Thursday, July 08, 2010

Pelicans rescued from oil arrive in Pinellas

A rescue effort is saving the lives of oil-covered pelicans in Louisiana. The birds are rehabilitated then relocated to Florida beaches.

The moment of freedom for thirty-two brown pelicans came Wedensday as they were released into the wild at Fort DeSoto Park.

Less than two weeks ago, oil covered each of the birds. They were captured off the coast of Southeast Louisiana.

"Most of these birds were incapable of flying. They had enough oil on them that they're kind of incapacitated," explained Cassidy Lejeune of Louisiana's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

After about 10 days of rehabilitation at Fort Jackson, the pelicans were healthy enough to move to a new home free of oil.

"They're amazingly resilient. These are pretty calm birds. Once we stopped moving them around they settled down and sat in their crates and never made a peep," offered wildlife veterinarian Jenny Powers.

They flew from New Orleans in a twin-engine Coast Guard plane two pelicans per cage.

So why Fort DeSoto? The decision to bring the pelicans there has to do with much more than simply avoiding oil.

"We choose release sights based on oil trajectory, based on weather and habitat," Powers offered.

Fort DeSoto offers protected beaches and a good prey base for the pelicans to feed. As they were released, a small crowd welcomed them to Florida and witnessed something unexpected happen -- the pelicans flocked together.

"I think it must be security," Laura Foster observed. "They've been traumatized, I'm sure. They've been around humans and not their normal environment. Whether they were originally part of the same flock or not, it's nice to see that they have a family."

The rescued birds have up to an 80 percent chance of survival. Some may try to migrate back to Louisiana.

To date, more than 400 oil coated birds have been rehabilitated and released.

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