Heart of Louisiana: Queen Bess

After major restoration work, Tiny Queen Bess Island along the Louisiana coast is thriving today as a major nesting area for the brown pelican.
Published: Jun. 11, 2023 at 6:57 PM CDT

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - After major restoration work, Tiny Queen Bess Island along the Louisiana coast is thriving today as a major nesting area for the brown pelican.

Queen Bess Island, located barely three miles from Grand Isle, is only a few dozen acres in size. But what it does for the brown pelican and other coastal birds is amazing. The shoreline of Queen Bess, fortified with rocks that help hold the island together, is crowded with pelicans loafing at the water’s edge. You hear the constant screeching of laughing gulls and other seabirds. This is where they all nest in the coastal shrubs and grasses and sand.

“Pelicans, in many cases, nest in shrubs, that’s where they nested out here prior to the restoration. And then you have ground nesters, and so some of those ground nesters prefer vegetation like the laughing gull nests. Others prefer the bare ground,” Robert Dobbs said.

Robert Dobbs, a bird specialist with Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, carefully guides me across the island. We walk slowly to avoid nests that can be tucked away in the vegetation. There are thousands of active nests.

“We saw lots of eggs. We saw chicks anywhere ranging from maybe a day or two old up to what looked to me to be, you know, possibly five weeks old,” Dobbs said.

In the 1950s and 60s, the pesticide DDT wiped out all of Louisiana’s brown pelicans. Queen Bess Island is the first place those birds began nesting again when they were reintroduced more than 50 years ago.

“So this is one of the sites where they brought in pre-fledgling age chicks from Florida to Louisiana. This was the first site where that introduction effort was successful. The first nests in Louisiana after the reintroduction effort occurred here,” Dobbs said.

But Queen Bess was heavily impacted by the 2010 deepwater Horizon oil spill, and it’s been pounded by hurricanes including category four Ida in 2021. Queen Bess underwent a major restoration the year before ida swept across the island.

“We actually added to the rocks that the corps of engineers had put here to strengthen the perimeter of the island, and then we raised the elevation by as much as four feet above sea level in the highest part, and sloped it down to where we just nourished the marshy area at the north end. That was always the healthiest part of the island,” Katie Freer-Leonaeds said.

Katie Freer-Leonards is a project manager with Louisiana’s coastal protection and restoration authority. She is impressed by this island’s resilience

“Today as we were walking across the island, I just kept shaking my head and being in awe of the variety of vegetation that we have that’s really starting to look thick and rich, and we’re seeing brown pelicans nesting throughout the whole island,” Leonards said.

With a significant amount of help, the state bird was reborn here, and the pelican not only survives but is thriving today on Queen Bess.

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