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Pelicans dot an island landscape shot from above with a single large pelican flying near the elevated camera.
Information icon A brown pelican soars over others on Queen Bess Island, Louisiana. Photo by USFWS.

Island restoration project and partnerships playing key role in future of the brown pelican

It may not be widely known that Louisiana, the Pelican State, had lost for almost a decade all of its namesake brown pelicans. In the early 1900’s Louisiana’s brown pelican population was estimated at 50,000 to 80,000. The widespread use of the insecticide DDT, however, took a huge toll on many bird species, including the brown pelican. By 1963, the bird was no longer found anywhere in the state. Today, the birds are back and their numbers around the state are staying steady. But if wildlife biologists don’t make continuous efforts to protect the bird’s precious nesting habitat, the survival of these populations will once again be tested.

Adult and juvenile brown pelicans nesting on an island
Brown pelicans like these once disappeared from Louisiana despite being the state bird. Photo by USFWS.

After brown pelicans were extirpated from Louisiana, a small group of very committed wildlife biologists from Louisiana and Florida joined forces to undertake a daring experiment. Beginning in 1968, they began to move hatchlings from coastal Florida to three of Louisiana’s barrier islands. Over the next eight years, more than 760 brown pelican chicks were relocated. In 1971, 11 nests were documented on Queen Bess Island, marking the first successful recolonization of brown pelicans in Louisiana. Biologists kept track of the growing numbers and documented a peak of about 4,000 nests on Queen Bess in 2008.

Now, with the pelicans back and relying on the island for critical nesting habitat, biologists have turned their sights on saving Queen Bess Island from the erosion that has reduced it to a small fraction of its former size. “Supporting larger numbers of these nesting birds in this area is all about providing and maintaining the right habitat”, explains John Tirpak, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. “We would like to use Deepwater Horizon settlement funds to keep Queen Bess from eroding away.”

An adult brown pelican flapping it's wings next to four light-colored juvenile birds
Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement funds are being used to restore Louisiana’s Queen Bess Island, home to many brown pelicans. Photo by USFWS.

The first post-oil spill restoration project for Queen Bess Island included $2.5 million for engineering and design. That work is currently underway and will provide the design needed to propose restoration of 29 acres of brown pelican and wading bird habitat, 7 acres of nesting tern habitat and breakwaters on the southwestern perimeter of the island in a future restoration plan. If approved, the restoration project could begin as early as September 2019 and could be completed by February 2020.

“It has been an honor to work with our fellow Trustees, especially the state of Louisiana, on this project. This project is an excellent example of how collaboration between the federal and state trustees can boost the likelihood avian species continue to flourish,” says John Tirpak. “Our partnership on this project has been in place, one way or another, and with one funding stream or another for 50 years! That’s for longer than I’ve been alive,” he adds.

Contact

Nanciann Regalado, Public affairs specialist
nanciann_regalado@fws.gov, (404) 679-7286

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