Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Brown Pelican

The brown pelican is a large and mostly dark brown bird, with touches of white, and black legs and feet. This bird has a long beak with a large pouch underneath and a hooked tip.

Toes are webbed and their legs are fairly short, giving them a somewhat waddling gait when walking. Wingspan is more than two meters and they soar exceptionally well. Both males and females look alike.

There are seven pelican species living around the world. The brown pelicans' breeding ground runs from Anacapa Island, which is off the coast of California, all the way down to Chile and from Maryland in the East down to Venezuela and over to Trinidad. After breeding, their territory may cover British Colombia, and across to Nova Scotia. They only live within close proximity to water and never venture more than twenty miles out to sea or inland to fresh water. They love puttering about estuaries and at shallow bays.

Brown Pelicans in Flight

Pelicans all dive down to fish then scoop up mid-sized fish into their pouch. Sometimes they feed on anchovies or sardines, but mostly consume non-commercial fish. Brown Pelicans are the only ones that dive so steeply. When fish are caught in a pelican's pouch, they force the water out by going to the surface. After that, they can swallow any fish caught. Young pelicans swim near their elders on the surface and learn how to fish that way. A pouch may hold up to three gallons of water. Sometimes, they also eat invertebrates.

Brown pelicans love to nest on islands that offer some protection. In the extreme Southeast, you can find them in mangrove swamps. Their nests are flimsy and they often build them on the ground. Because they breed in colonies, they can get disturbed by fishermen and tourists. About two or three eggs are laid in April or March. It takes a month for the chicks to hatch and both parents have parental duties. Regurgitation of the catch of the day feeds the babies. Chicks do not fly for about 75 days, after their feathers are sufficiently developed, and then they are on their own. They can breed after 2 to 5 years. Brown Pelicans in Flight

Brown pelicans were once very endangered in the U.S. due to pesticide poisoning. After DDT was banned, they recovered totally on the East Coast and are slowly climbing up in population numbers elsewhere. Some threats still exist -- overhead wires and discarded fishing line among them. Human encroachment into habitat and reduction of food source due to overfishing are also dangers.

It's great to see the recovery of this bird. Often, large flocks can be seen flying in a typical V formation. Some of these skeins contain many birds and it's heartwarming to know that nature can renew herself, if given a chance. Although any animal doesn't need a reason to exist, seeing these large birds wheel over the ocean as the sun is setting, gives human beings hope for the future.

You will not have to look hard to find brown pelicans in the Gulf Shores area. They are always flying over the beach and swimming in the coastal waters. It is easy to get close enough to them to take good photos. If you want to see them in a feeding frenzy, visit an Orange Beach marina fish cleaning station just after the charter boats come in for the day

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