BROWNSVILLE —The brown pelicans of South Padre Island have a bunch of cold-weather friends at Resaca Elementary School in Brownsville.
One year ago, the students, then fourth-graders, and their teacher wrote a song about the problems the pelicans experience every time a stiff-enough cold front blows in from the north. Due to structural features of Highway 48 between the Bahia Grande and the Brownsville Ship Channel, when the wind is just right out of the north or northwest it creates conditions that push flying pelicans down to the roadway.
Music teacher Renee Lockett brought the situation to the students’ attention after hundreds of the birds died in December 2016.
“As educators we want our kids to be problem-solvers,” Lockett said. “So we looked at the issue, and the kids were heartbroken. They all wanted to know what they could do.”
They decided to write letters to Gov. Gregg Abbott and to write a song about the pelicans’ plight. The song is posted to YouTube accompanying a video gallery of the letters. The song is sung to the melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Here’s how the first verse goes:
“Pelican, Pelican, fly this way,’
Because we kids have something to say
We heard that cars are hitting you.
We want to help, so we’ll sing for you.
Pelican, Pelican, cars speed by
Not giving you a chance to fly.”
Lockett said everyone in the class contributed ideas “and we just sort of molded them into a song.”
One year later, the students feel a sense of accomplishment.
“Because we’re kids and we care, maybe (highway officials) will listen,” Liset Alcocer said. “It felt good to know that we made a difference.”
Cesar Casas made a sign that said “RIP 100 pelicans.”
Beatriz Campos said the experience made her more sure she wants to be a veterinarian.
“I love animals, and when the pelicans were getting run over I felt bad,” she said. “I didn’t like to see them run over, and that helped me to want to be a veterinarian.”
Jose Ortiz made another point, one that’s made in the song.
“It’s not just our world, it’s the animals’ world. They were here first,” he said.
Other students said they were proud to be part of the project and happy to know the pelicans were being saved.
Lockett said Resaca Principal Lucy Hernandez “is very good about letting us make students aware of critical issues.”
At issue is a four-mile stretch of Highway 48. When cold weather blew in this past Dec. 7, a “pelican team” swung into action. The team did so again during frigid weather this past week, during which three pelicans died. The team was formed after 60-100 birds were killed during a similar weather event in December 2016.
Justin LeClaire, a wildlife biologist involved with the effort, said the pelicans’ situation has improved in that the Texas Department of Transportation is studying the problem. TxDOT also posts digital signs warning motorists to slow down when weather conditions put the birds in danger.
The speed limit on the four-mile stretch of Highway 48, though, remains 75 mph.