Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on February 26, 2008
In his popular poem, Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879-1972) ponders“Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican! / His bill holds more than his belican / He can take in his beak enough food enough for a week / but I’m damned if I can see how the helican!”
The subject of Merritt’s verse, the wondrous pelican, descended from an ancient group of cormorant-like animals that lived about 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. These magnificent birds can grow to four feet tall or more, have an astonishing wingspan of six to nine feet and are most easily recognized by their beaks, which (as the poem says) truly can hold more than their bellies — about three gallons to one gallon, to be exact.
The Brown Pelican is the only species that hunts with a spectacular, sometimes almost vertical, plunging dive.
It’s terrifying to think such a beautiful creature could survive for so long and then nearly die out at the hands of a much younger species (namely, humans). But that’s exactly what happened in the state of Louisiana.
After naming the pelican their state bird and placing its picture on their official seal in 1804, Louisianians nearly poisoned it in the 1960s by inadvertently allowing it to ingest DDT and later dieldrin. The poisoned coastal waters were ingested and absorbed by the filter feeders and “mud eaters”, which are the diet of small fish and crustaceans — which are the diet of the pelicans. This resulted in severe eggshell thinning, leading to reproductive failure.
David Muth, vice president of the Orleans Audubon Society, states, “In some ways, the brown pelican was the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for Louisiana. Its disappearance was the first signal that something was going wrong in coastal Louisiana.” (via My Way News)
But after nearly four decades of conservation attempts, the Brown Pelican (Pelicanus occidentalis) has made such a miraculous recovery that it might just fly its way right off the endangered species list. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall said the pelican’s habitat is secure, despite Louisiana’s eroding coastline and marshland.
But is the removal a premature one? In viewing recent reports of the horrendous conditions that continue to prevail for the human species, it makes me wonder: should conservation ever cease?