From: Verna Gates, Reuters, BIRMINGHAM
Published July 11, 2011 07:01 AM

Gaillard Island, a feathered paradise off the coast of Alabama bursting with birds!

Thousands of baby pelicans grunt and hiss at their parents in tightly packed nests on Gaillard Island, a feathered paradise situated off the coast of Alabama.


The 1,300-acre, man-made island is hosting more than 50,000 birds this summer as nesting pairs gather to raise babies. That number would be considered high in any year, but it's a particularly surprising sight a year after oil from the BP spill fouled surrounding waters.

The Deepwater Horizon rig explosion spewed more than 168 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months, the largest spill in U.S. history. But so far, there is no evidence of deformities or ill health among the young on Gaillard Island.

Scientists speculate that the baby boom probably results from an abundance of fish left undisturbed in waterways where the federal government banned commercial and recreational fishing last summer, providing a feast for shore birds.

In a speech this spring, the executive director of the nearby Dauphin Island Sea Lab said the fish populations in that part of the Gulf were larger than he had ever seen.

The population of the pelicans, terns, laughing gulls, egrets, ibis and little blue and tricolored herons nesting on Gaillard Island is determined by the food supply, said Roger Clay, a wildlife biologist with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

"If something was wrong with the food, the first place it would show is with the birds," said Clay, also known as the "the pelican guy."

That fact was painfully true in the 1960s and 1970s when the agricultural chemical DDT caused birds to produce deformed eggs. Many species, including the brown pelican, teetered on the brink of extinction.

A fondness for pelican feathers in women's hats in the 1900s resulted in over-hunting and decimated populations. The four nesting pelicans on Gaillard Island in 1983 were the first sightings of the birds in years in Alabama.

Photo shows Brown Pelican Rookery.  Credit: Marlin Gipson,  Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation.

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