Pelicans Thriving One Year after BP Oil Spill

Published August 1, 2011

The pelican population along the northern Gulf of Mexico is thriving, putting to rest fears the BP oil spill would have long-lasting negative effects on the iconic marine bird. The limited impact of the oil spill on the pelican population contrasts sharply with the much higher death toll inflicted by windmills on golden eagles and a wide variety of other birds and bats.

More Birds Than Usual
Aviary experts report the number of pelicans and other marine birds nesting in places such as Gaillard Island in Mobile Bay is larger than normal this year. Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports 6,100 birds died in the oil spill, an abundance of bait fish in the Gulf of Mexico this year has aided the rapid rebound in marine bird numbers.

“So far, we have seen very little impact from the oil spill, and we are pleased that it has not affected the nesting habits of the brown pelican,” said Celeste Hinds, field trip coordinator for the Mobile Bay Audubon Society, according to a June 10 Reuters story ( “Island off Alabama coast bursting with birds after oil spill”).

The populations of other marine birds, such as herons, ibises, egrets, gulls, and royal terns, are also thriving this year, bird experts report.  

“There certainly seems to be growing evidence that the worst-case scenarios are not coming to pass,” said Kevin Kane, president of the Louisiana-based Pelican Institute for Public Policy.

“The pelicans are apparently recovering quite well,” agreed Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. “Sadly, the humans and the economy along the Gulf Coast are not. The former we can attribute to the resilience of God’s creation. The latter we can attribute to the intransigence of people who oppose the resumption of [oil and natural gas] drilling.”

Results Defy Media Hype
“That the pelicans are doing so well shows how hysterically the left-wing press reacted to the oil spill,” said Walter E. Block, a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and professor at Loyola University of Louisiana. 

President Obama last year described the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as the “worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” Yet the 6,100 birds that died in the oil spill, with no long-term negative impact on the Gulf Coast bird populations, contrast sharply with the large number of birds killed each year from wind turbines. Not only do wind turbines kill up to 275,000 birds each year, according to the American Bird Conservancy, but the impact of turbine kills has additional long-term impacts on important protected species.

For example, in California’s Altamont Pass, which has the highest density of protected golden eagles in the world, wind turbines are killing so many golden eagles that the species is unable to sustain its population.

“Want the pelicans to do even better? One, privatize them. Two, stop subsidizing those windmills that kill birds,” Block explained.
D. Brady Nelson ([email protected]) is a Milwaukee-based economist.