Volunteers Help Save Hundreds of Downed Pelicans from Highway

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Where were you last Thursday when “The Great Blizzard of 2017” descended upon South Texas? Hopefully, you weren’t one of the more than 300 brown pelicans who were trapped on the highway near Harlingen. According to the Valley Morning Star publication, as the cold front approached and winds began to gust, pelicans trying to escape the high winds began dropping on State Highway 48 as they attempted to fly from the Brownsville Ship Channel into the Bahia Grande Unit of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

More Than 200 Pelicans Rescued

Pelican on road

Photo: Flickr/Martin Hornsby

The good news is that volunteers were able to rescue more than 200 of the pelicans this year. These birds fared much better than the pelicans caught in the same circumstances last year when almost 100 pelicans were hit by cars on the stretch of highway near the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Following this tragic event, the “Pelican Team” was created following the two storm-filled days last December after cold fronts created conditions forcing pelicans onto the roadway that stretches from Port Isabel to Brownsville.

The Pelican Team Saves the Day


Photo: Flickr/Chris Jepsen

This year between a dozen and two dozen birds were lost, but the numbers were far fewer due to the efforts of the Pelican Team as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas General Land Office, Texas game wardens, Good Samaritans and the Port Isabel Volunteer Fire Department.

Due to how the roadway is constructed, particularly the barriers on both sides of Highway 48 and the center divider, when the wind is just right out of the north or northwest it creates conditions that push flying pelicans down onto the roadway.

According to the Valley Morning Star, the barriers intensify high winds on the sides but leave a dead zone over the roadway which causes pelicans to flop onto the asphalt where they are vulnerable to vehicles. TxDOT is studying the problem of the barriers and wildlife officials hope that changes can be made to prevent this from happening in the future.

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