BROWN PELICAN – (Pelecanus occidentalis)
DESCRIPTION: The Brown Pelican is actually more grey than brown. The head is yellow and the neck white. The breeding male has a yellow head and the neck turns black. The bill, as in all pelicans, is quite long at some 30 cm (12 inches), and has an extensible pouch to hold prey. The bill is mostly grey and the legs and feet are black. The brown pelican is the smallest of its genus, at approximately 130 cm (52 inches) long, and a wingspan of around 2 meters (6.6 feet).
NAME: The English name ‘Pelican’ – and the Latin genus name ‘Pelecanus’ are derived from ancient Greek, and mean ‘axe’. This word was used for the woodpecker bill, and by extension, for other species with a long bill. The Latin species name ‘occidentalis’ refers to the bird’ geographical region, ‘western’, or a New World species.
HABITAT: Shallow saltwater – mangroves, marshes, estuaries, beaches or bays.
DIET: Mostly fish. Using its excellent eyesight, the brown pelican can spot fish from the air. It will then dive headfirst and scoop the fish in its pouch, draining water from it while on the surface. However, while doing this other birds such as gulls or terns will help themselves right from the pouch! On the other hand, the brown pelican too is attracted to easy food (see photo below). Other sources of food are amphibians, crustaceans, and bird eggs and chicks.
NESTING: The brown pelican is a social bird that breeds in colonies. Nests are build near the ground in a sheltered location, preferably on an island to minimize predation. Nesting materials include leaves, sticks, even pebbles, lined with feathers and rimmed with soil. Usually three white eggs are laid, incubated by both parents. Chicks are fed by both parents.
ON PEI: The brown pelican does not breed on Prince Edward Island and there have only been a few ‘accidental’ observations on the island, such as when those birds are blown off course by tropical storms.
DISTRIBUTION: There is considerable overlap between the breeding and non-breeding ranges of the brown pelican. Those are the coasts of most of the USA (except Alaska), Mexico, the Caribbean, and northern South America. There is very little migration from breeding (summer sites) to non-breeding (winter) sites.
CONSERVATION: For some time this pelican species was endangered due to pesticides such as DDT, but has made a full recovery following a ban on that pesticide. A refuge has been established on a Florida island solely for the protection of the brown pelican: Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.
NOTES: Contrary to popular belief, a pelican pouch is not used for transporting anything but prey. This pouch can hold three times as much as the stomach. The brown pelican is the national bird of several Caribbean Islands including the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is also the state bird of Louisiana, which is sometimes called the ‘Pelican State’. The brown pelican is referred to in some films, notably ‘The Pelican Brief’.
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/brownpelican.htm (New Hampshire PBS)
Here’s a video of a brown pelican approaching a small boat in Nicaragua:
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