Harrison County

Casting call? Looks like a pelican convention

Dozens and dozens of pelicans roost near the shore and group up in the water near Holley and Lee streets, east of the Small Craft Harbor in Biloxi on Monday, August 1, 2016.
Dozens and dozens of pelicans roost near the shore and group up in the water near Holley and Lee streets, east of the Small Craft Harbor in Biloxi on Monday, August 1, 2016. amccoy@sunherald.com

They’re filming a remake of “The Birds,” Mark LaSalle said when the Sun Herald called to ask about the inordinate number of pelicans and odd white shore birds congregating between Holley and Lee streets, just east of the Small Craft Harbor.

LaSalle is the director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. He was joking, but he said it wasn’t the first call he’d gotten about the birds on Monday.

Dozens and dozens of brown pelicans filled the water near the shore along that stretch of beach, protected by Deer Island. Almost as many vied for the dozens of pilings left when piers in the area were destroyed. Then along the shore, right at the water’s edge was a solid line, two or three deep, of white shore birds that looked oddly familiar. Those were juvenile laughing gulls.

LaSalle got serious and explained.

“It happens this time every year,” he said. “We just don’t notice it, living around here day-to-day.”

Most of these birds are returning from their nesting area in the Gulf of Mexico and coming back to the Mississippi beaches, he said. “What we’re seeing are adult pelicans returning from Breton National Wildlife Refuge.” The area is at the Chandeleur Islands south of Gulfport and east of Louisiana. The adults are bringing with them the juveniles, which look a little different.

Juvenile laughing gulls lining up at the water’s edge don’t look right either, because they’re all white and don’t have the black heads they get when they’re adults.

The young laughing gulls are skittish and easy to send scattering. The young pelicans are mottled gray and white, “kind of goofy looking,” LaSalle said, unlike the adult brown pelicans that have the distinctive white and yellow on their heads.

The juveniles are mixed in with the adults in these groupings.

What motorists along U.S. 90 are seeing are brown pelicans and laughing gulls moving back and bringing their babies with them, he said.

The cycle begins again for them in April, when they go to nest again and leave only young and old pelicans to entertain the summer tourists.

“It’s very dramatic when you drive by,” LaSalle said.

When they return like this en mass, they have favorite spots. The pilings and quiet water between Holley and Lee streets is one of them. That area also has sand spits at low tide.

LaSalle said they’ll hang there until the tide comes in and makes them move.

Other popular areas some years: South of Courthouse Road and the water in front of the site of the former Broadwater Hotel.

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