Oil-Damaged Pelicans Released in Pinellas County

brown pelicans
Two brown pelicans test out the waters before taking flight after their release at Fort DeSoto Beach.
FORT DESOTO (2010-7-7) -

Just a few days ago, they were oil-covered and unable to fly. But Wednesday morning, 32 rehabilitated brown pelicans took wing over Fort DeSoto Beach in Pinellas County – the largest such release in the Tampa Bay area since the spill began.

The birds were caught in the oil in Louisiana and neighboring states. It took up to two weeks and a whole lot of Dawn dishwashing detergent to bring the birds back to life.

Their blood was tested and their feathers checked to make sure they could resist water.

Then they were loaded into dog crates and flown in air-conditioned Coast Guard plane to Clearwater. There, Pinellas County officials in five air-conditioned vans picked them up and took them to Fort DeSoto, a county park with a 70-acre area set aside for wildlife.

Fort DeSoto was picked for the release for several reasons. The most recent models show the oil heading west, with a less than 20 percent chance oil would hit Tampa Bay. Also, the site is close to a Coast Guard station.

Finally, the birds are accustomed to living on the Gulf coast, so it’s hoped they’ll have an easier time adapting here than on the Atlantic.

So far, 400 oiled birds have been rehabilitated and released. Biologists believe 50-80 percent may survive over the long term.

Jim Wilson, a manager at Fort DeSoto County Park, watched as the first two birds tentatively took to flight, but were quickly followed by the other 30 birds. They flocked together and flew away.

Wilson said that when the birds could smell the water, you could see the excitement in their eyes.

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