Rescued brown pelican, found during 2010 Deepwater Horizon Disaster, flies hundreds of miles to return home
JEFFERSON PARISH - Many Louisianans who've moved out of state occassionally find themselves musing on the fact that there's no place like home.
One local resident, a very special brown pelican, appeared to agree with this sentiment when it left a temporary residence in Georgia and traveled over 700 miles to return to the Bayou State.
The pelican had been taken to Georgia following a traumatic incident in 2010.
A victim of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the bird was found completely covered in oil on June 14.
A Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) biologist discovered the pelican on a rock jetty on Queen Bess Island in Barataria Bay.
According to a news release from LDWF, at that time the pelican was tagged “Red 33Z.”
The resilient bird was taken to a triage facility and then to a rehabilitation facility in Louisiana.
But the bird's travels didn't end there. The pelican was then brought, via plane, to a U.S. Coast Guard station in Brunswick, Georgia, and released on July 1, 2010.
Officials say this particular pelican was released in Georgia due to being captured early on after the spill. Birds that were rehabbed at that point were released outside the impact area so they weren’t in danger of getting into the oil again.
These birds were released in Georgia, Texas and Florida. Since then, other pelicans that were set free in other areas have been spotted back in Louisiana.
But the determination of the bird who became known to LDWF officials as "Red 33Z" was something special.
“It’s truly impressive that it made its way back from Georgia,’’ said LDWF biologist Casey Wright, who spotted and photographed the pelican last month.
The 33Z tag is still on the pelican’s right leg and can clearly be seen in the photograph taken by Wright.
It isn’t known exactly when the bird made its way back home.
“Brown pelicans, like most seabirds, are thought to be hard-wired, genetically, to return to their birth colony to breed, despite moving long distances during the non-breeding season,’’ LDWF Non-game Ornithologist Robert Dobbs said. “That may be an overly simplistic generalization, but re-sighting data of banded pelicans often support that pattern.’’
LDWF says the pelican was one of 582 successfully rehabbed during the aftermath of the spill.
The agency says that more than 5,000 birds, dead and alive, were collected in Louisiana as a result of the disaster, and brown pelicans made up 22 percent of all recoveries.
Statistics indicate that the spill resulted in the deaths of between 51,000-84,000 birds, and the actual number was likely on the high end of that scale.
Queen Bess Island, which was severely affected by the oil spill, is a popular spot among local birds and accounts for 15-20 percent of young brown pelicans hatched in Louisiana in a given year. The island is now managed by LDWF as a refuge and consists of about 36 acres.
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