Brown Pelican

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Common Name: Brown Pelican
Scientific Name: Pelecanus occidentalis

Size: 42-54 inches (106-137 cm)

Habitat: North America & Northern South American. Summer Range: Breeds in scattered locations along coasts from Maryland southward around Florida and westward to southern Texas and Mexico, to Honduras. On Pacific Coast from southern California to South America. Also in Caribbean and northern South America. Wanders widely after breeding, north to British Columbia and New England. Winter Range: Winters along both coasts from central California and Virginia southward to South America. This pelican is only found on coastal regions and will not visit inland lakes. It prefers warm coastal marine and estuarine environments.

Status: Least Concern /Vulnerable. Global Population: 300,000 mature individuals. The Brown Pelican population declined severely in the first half of the 20th century. Shooting for feathers ,"protecting" fishing caused declines in pelican populations, pesticide poisoning (especially by DDT) caused severe declines across the range in the late 1950's and the extirpation from Louisiana ("the pelican state"). It was listed as Endangered throughout the range in 1970. The ban on DDT led to a population recovery, and it was removed from the Endangered Species list in Atlantic Coast states in 1985. Breeding numbers in most states are stable or increasing, and the total population in the United States now exceeds historical levels. Pelican populations took a hit in Gulf Coast region from the 2010 BP Oil spill. Populations on the western coast are still protected. All Pelicans in the United States are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Diet: Fish and some marine invertebrates. Prey is usually caught by an aerial dive into the ocean.

Nesting: Sexes look alike; males slightly larger. Coloration: Immature juvenile are dirty brown all over with white belly, pale line along middle of the under wings. Their bills are gray-brown. Yearlings are similar, but grayer on back and with some white feathers on sides of head and neck. Bills become paler and may have some yellow or orange.

It breeds primarily on islands. Nests are large flat bowl of sticks lined with grasses or leaves. It is placed in short trees, shrubs, or on ground. Pelicans nests in colonies, often with herons and other water birds. 3 chalky white eggs are laid. Unlike most birds, which warm their eggs with the skin of their breasts, pelicans incubate their eggs with their feet. They hold the eggs under the webs that stretch from the front toes to the hind toe, essentially standing on the eggs to warm them. This peculiar incubation method made them vulnerable to the effects of the pesticide DDT. The DDT made the eggshells thin, and the incubating parents frequently cracked their eggs.

Cool Facts: It is unique among the world’s seven other species of pelicans as it is found only along the ocean shores and not on inland lakes. It and the Peruvian Pelican are the only pelicans that dives from the air into the water to catch its food.

While the Brown Pelican is draining the water from its bill after a dive, gulls often try to steal the fish right out of its pouch. They sometimes even perch on the pelican's head or back and reach in. The pelican itself, however, is not above stealing fish from other seabirds. It also follows fishing boats and hangs around piers for handouts.

The Brown Pelican frequently lowers its head onto its shoulders with the bill open, pulls its head back, and stretches the pouch over its throat and neck. The exposed neck looks like a large lump sticking up out of the pouch.

Found in Songbird ReMix Pelicans

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