The brown pelican, Pelicanus occidentalis, is the state bird of Louisiana. Worldwide, there are six species of pelican. Two species, the white and the brown, are native to the U.S. The brown is the smallest of all; Atlantic browns are even smaller than the ones in the Pacific. Still they are large and with their huge bill, unmistakable.
For years, brown pelicans were not to be seen on the Chesapeake — or anywhere. From the late 1950s until the mid 1980s, the brown pelican practically disappeared. The pesticide DDT nearly drove pelicans, eagles, osprey and peregrine falcons to extinction.
–The story of DDT has been told over and over. The chemical persists in the environment and concentrates in the bodies of animals at the top of the food chain. The toxin causes eggs to weaken, so the chicks die. Biologist Rachel Carson wrote a book called Silent Spring that rang the alarm. The world responded, the birds were declared endangered and DDT was banned in the U.S. The birds came back, and quite possibly we were all spared from the toxic effects of a dangerous host of related threats.
It was on the California coast south of Carmel that I first saw the noble pelicans. I was fascinated watching the big birds cruise, in single file, parallel to the shoreline. I loved how they could fly so close to the water in their game of follow the leader, flapping their wings with slow strong beats. That was in the mid 1980s.