Cold weather and strong winds have been an issue for pelicans along Highway 48 in Cameron County for years.
The Texas Department of Transportation has made roadway changes in the past to prevent the birds from being hit by drivers. Thursday was a relatively good day for the pelicans.
“They can be a bit intimidating,” said Stepanie Bilodeau, a long-time pelican rescuer volunteer. “They have a pretty big bill and they will try to snap at you, but we have nets, like dip nets, which are helpful. It extends the length of your arm so you can reach out to grab it. When they’re trying to bite you, it’s pretty easy to grab the bill, and then once you have the bill, you just have to scoop up the wings and the body and then that’s that.”
The problem has continued since the first big mass event in December 2016, when 75 were killed at once. Since then, TxDOT has invested money in several studies and re-designs.
The main problem is the wind flows south, the pelicans fly north, and in the middle of the road, concrete barriers interact with the airflow and push the birds down.
“The new barrier that they put up, it just didn’t have quite the effect that they were hoping for,” Bilodeau said.
Fixes after studies by TxDOT did make the problem better. The pelicans down the road at the Jaime Zapata boat ramp are now apparently not getting hit.
“There are still a lot of people around here who don’t understand what that means or what the heck I’m talking about,” Bildeau said. “So, that’s why this sort of thing is so important, so we can spread the word and people can realize what’s going on out here.”
One pelican was hit Thursday, far fewer than before.
If you are driving along Highway 48 during cold weather, slow down.