Skip to main content

The Pelican In Peril

March 2023
1min read

A wonderful bird is the pelican, His beak will hold more than his belican. He can take in his beak Food enough for a week, But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

Now, however, one variety of the “wonderful bird,” the brown pelican, a strictly coastal species, is in serious trouble; for his beakful of marine fish also includes a good dose of DOT. The situation is sadlyfamiliar. Manmade pollutants—chiefly organochlorine insecticides—are passed along through the insect-to-fish-to-bird food cycle. And thus have such insecticides already brought the eagle, the osprey, and the peregrine falcon perilously near extinction. For all of them DDT has meant low reproductive rates, sterile eggs, eggs with shells too fragile to support the incubating bird, and for the eagle eggs with no shells at all. In California the pelican’s nesting season this year was a total failure—one thousand nests, no young. Scientists investigating a rookery on Anacapa Island in Santa Barbara Channel reported shells “spongy in texture … portions of the shells were flaking, exposing the membrane.” But at least the California scientists are aware of what is happening. It was only a few years ago that Louisiana suddenly discovered it could no longer call itself the Pelican State: not a single nesting bird was to be found where once a population of a hundred thousand had thrived. Similarly, Texas no longer has nesting pelicans; the South Carolina population has dropped to a fifth of the si/e it was ten years ago. For reasons not understood, Florida is the one area where the brown pelican seems to be holding his own, and this year Pelican Island, which was set aside by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 as the first national wildlife refuge, produced a healthy crop of young.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "December 1969"

Authored by: Charlton Ogburn, Jr.

In terms of consumption and pollution, America is the most overpopulated nation on earth. We think we can afford it—but we are leading the world to

Authored by: Wallace Stegner

Wise men like Thomas Jefferson have always known how to live with the earth instead of against it. We need to develop a land ethic, with wise stewardship and a respect for the earth.

Authored by: Robert L. Vargas

Outgunned by the Nazi raider, the Stephen Hopkins could have struck her colors. Instead she elected to fight

Authored by: William Manners

(when Taft succeeded Teddy Roosevelt) (at one of the White House’s most unfortunate house parties)

Authored by: Morris Bishop

Do today’s turbulent college campuses make you long for the good old days? The facts may dampen your nostalgia

Authored by: James Thomas Flexner

Mortally ill as his century dwindled to its close, Washington was helped to his grave by physicians who clung to typical eighteenth-century remedies. But he died as nobly as he had lived

Authored by: Gen. George C. Kenney

The planes were fragile and the Boche was tough, but the girls were pretty, the wine was good, and death was something that happened to someone else

Authored by: Oliver Jensen

Is it really true that the more things change, the more they stay the same? Once upon a time, before the bureaucratic society, before modern war and technology, there was a very different world, and not so long ago. Let us revisit, picking at random, the year

Authored by: David McCullough

In the hills of Kentucky a small-town lawyer named Harry Caudill battles to save his homeland from the ravages of strip mining

Featured Articles

Famous writers including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts turned Sleepy Hollow Cemetery into our country’s first conservation project.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.

Roast pig, boiled rockfish, and apple pie were among the dishes George and Martha enjoyed during the holiday in 1797. Here are some actual recipes.

Born during Jim Crow, Belle da Costa Greene perfected the art of "passing" while working for one of the most powerful men in America.