From this morning’s Washington Post comes news that some Brown Pelicans have recruited humans in Maryland to feed them during the winter. The pelicans forgot to migrate, a mistake from which they would not normally recover. Brown Pelicans belong on the Gulf Coast in winter, not the northern Atlantic seaboard.
The pelicans are causing consternation among the wildlife officials in Maryland who know that a Brown Pelican who forgets to migrate has no business passing along its genes. Natural selection has no patience with that kind of oversight. But nobody wants to watch pelicans freezing to death and buried somewhere in humanity’s genes lies an urge to help individual animals in trouble.
Still, it isn’t nice to mess with Mother Nature.
As David Farenthold writes, “In the wild, after all, evolution doesn’t give mulligans.” (Not only is Farenthold’s article full of good information, it is quite well written. It is worth your time to click through and read it. It’s better than what you’re reading here. Not all nature journalism is as good which is why I go out of my way to praise the piece.)
Taken as a whole, of course, we spend more time destroying animals’ habitats and rendering the planet unsuitable for them than we do caring for individuals.
That there are forty or so Brown Pelicans in Maryland which need rescuing is a success story of sorts. We almost killed the entire species because of our aversion to vampire bugs, a/k/a mosquitoes.
DDT was the culprit and it did exactly the same thing to Brown Pelican eggs as it did to the eggs of Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons. DDT doesn’t kill honestly, it eliminates calcium from the birds’ egg shells which then break under the weight of the incubating parent. The parent doesn’t die, it just can’t reproduce.
In the United States, despite howls of protest from the insecticide corporations, we got rid of DDT in time and the Brown Pelican, like the eagles and falcons, are recovering and have been removed from the Endangered Species list.
That is not true for other places in the world, even in the Americas. Friends flew to Mexico some years ago and, before being allowed to deplane, had to stay in the plane while someone came through spraying DDT. They tried to hold their breath.
We take no position on the conundrum involved in feeding animals that forgot to migrate. We’re not allowed to. We kept Chuck, the Greater Roadrunner alive, and are now helping one of his offspring get through the winter. The youngster comes around about this time every day; in fact, the writing of this post was interrupted while I took him a mouse.
Those rescuers in Maryland are in for a busy winter. I see no reason to think that a Brown Pelican eats less than a seagull which puts me in mind of E.B. White who once raised a baby seagull. He wrote about that bird which, White said, “. . . eats twice his own weight in food every ten minutes, and if he doesn’t get it he screams.” And Brown Pelicans can live for twenty years. Hopefully, they will learn from this experience and move south next year. Otherwise, many more busy winters loom for the rescuers.
Pelicans like anchovies. Maybe the people can order lots of anchovy pizzas and share with the birds.
The Brown Pelican photograph is by Kevin Bercaw. The other photographs are ours. You can find E.B. White’s story of the baby seagull in his essay “Hot Weather” republished in One Man’s Meat.
For more blogging about the Brown Pelicans and the issues raised by helping them, see this post.