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Pelican Island - America's First Federal Bird Reservation

By: C.M.Shorter

Pelican Island
Merritt Island NWR

Pelican Island
Photo Credit: USFW
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Pelican Island and  the Eastern Brown Pelican are key symbols in America’s conservation history.   Not many people realize the great historic conservation significance of Pelican Island.   It was this tiny island sanctuary and the Eastern Brown Pelican species that paved the way for our nation’s Federal bird reservations.  Under this protection, the Eastern Brown Pelican can be found nowhere in numbers like the prime breeding grounds of Pelican Island off the east coast of Florida.  Located in the Indian River Lagoon between Sebastian and Wabasso, Pelican Island was declared on March 14, 1903 as America’s first Federal Bird Reservation by then President Theodore Roosevelt.  Pelican Island has the historic landmark of being the first of over 51 Bird Preservations established during Roosevelt’s presidency.  The Pelicans found a stanch supporter in Paul Kroegel, a German immigrant who together with Frank Chapman, a member of the American Ornithologists’ Union and Curator of Birds at the American Museum of Natural History rallied together to make a stand for this critical habitat.   The Executive Order to preserve Pelican Island and its inhabitants originally covered just over 3 acres and has now grown from its original size to over 4,700 acres including aquatic range and surrounding barrier island buffer land – all administered now by the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. 

The Brown Pelican has been long protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and was listed as “Endangered” as early as 1970 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services prior to the formal listing of this bird under the 1973 Endangered Species Act.  Like our nation’s great  Bald Eagle, Pelicans suffered the threat of extinction throughout its range and diminished populations from ingestion of the toxic pesticide DDT before it was banned.  Populations in the U.S. Gulf Coast off the shores of Louisiana have now recovered to a recent estimate of 6,000 breeding pairs.  This was accomplished through reintroduction of the Eastern Brown Pelican species using young Florida Pelicans to reintroduce the species back into Gulf Coast territory.  This type of recovery conservation plan was also implemented to transplant Texas Cougars into Florida territory in an effort to save the Critically Endangered Florida Panther.  The Brown Pelican is the official State Bird of Louisiana.  The Brown Pelican range also extends as far north as Virginia over into Pacific Coastal areas reaching down into South America through Chile and into the wilderness areas of the Galapagos Islands.

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Baby Pelican Chick
Yellowston National Park

Baby Pelican Chick
Photo Credit 1942 - Author Unknown - Animals of the Florida Everglades >>

Like the fragile ecosystem of the Everglades, on Pelican Island the salt water meets the island land and mangrove swamps forming an intertwining ecological bond & haven for the many species who make this protected area their home.  Besides the Eastern Brown Pelican hundreds of species of birds can be found on Pelican Island.   The Indian River Lagoon supports the largest population of Brown Pelicans in the world with recent  population counts numbering well over 30,000 birds.  Pelican Island and the surrounding area also supports two Wood Stork rookeries and gives shelter to a versatile array of threatened or endangered species including Florida (West Indian) Manatees, the southern Bald Eagle, Roseate Tern, Ibis, Osprey, Eastern Indigo Snakes, the Double-Crested Cormorant, Anhinga (nicknamed the “Snake-Bird”), and many species of Egrets, HeronAmerican River Otters along with several varieties of Sea-Turtles – the Loggerhead Turtle, Green, Kemp’s Ridley & Hawksbill Sea Turtles make Pelican Island home.  Even the mighty Arctic Peregrine Falcon takes up migratory wintering ground here.  Pelican Island gives not only aviary and marine mammal refuge but provides shelter and habitat for numerous other land mammal species including Bobcats, Opossums, and Raccoons

The keystone of TigerHomes’ educational mission is to increase public awareness about these animals. It is hoped that all of us together, along with our world’s younger generations, learn about the many species that inhabit our planet.  It is great realization to see how much richer our world is with its natural abundance of animal species.    Together, it is also hoped we learn how to support these types of conservation programs, to preserve these species, and find our way to coexist in harmony with the animals of our planet.

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As always, we hope you enjoyed this article featured as part of TigerHomes Sanctuary's continuing Educational Series. We also hope you will take this opportunity to visit our world renowned Animal Cams. You are invited to take your own snapshots and enter your pictures into our Viewer Gallery Contest for a chance to win monthly prizes! The SANCTUARY is a permanent home to Rare White Tigers, Golden Tigers, Bengal Tigers, Siberian Tigers, African Lions and Lemurs. Our residents are quite the characters and simply amazing to watch in their natural habitats. It is our Mission to preserve and protect these many Endangered Species. You can help save Endangered Species right now by visiting our Gift Shop.   Many animals of the Everglades can be seen first-hand in our TigerHomes Educational DVD Series, Florida's Wild Future. 

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More on Florida Everglades:
Florida Everglades | Pictures of Florida Everglades | Map of Florida Everglades | Animals Florida Everglades | Marjory Stoneman Douglas | Everglades Endangered Species
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