COASTAL CRITTER:BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
(feather in trunk)
DESCRIPTION:Poet Ogden Nash humorously described the pelican as "a bird whose bill holds more than its belly can"! The Brown Pelican is a very large, stocky shorebird that stands over two feet tall. Its beak is over 12 inches long with a sack-like throat pouch that can expand to hold as much as 3 gallons of water and fish! From the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail-feathers it is 3 to 4 feet long and has a wing-span over 6 feet. The adult bird has a white head trimmed in yellow. The young bird has a dark brown head. Both the adult and juvenile have brown bodies. A Brown Pelican has large webbed feet that aid in swimming.
What a clumsy, spectacular splash a Brown Pelican makes when it dives head first into the water to catch a meal of fish! The bird pops up to the surface with its beak and throat-pouch full of water and fish. A Brown Pelican's beak is equipped with tiny openings between the upper and lower halves. Through these openings, it quickly strains the water from its pouch by tipping its beak down, then points its bill up and swallows the fish whole in one big gulp. When not in flight, the Brown Pelican
usually rests its heavy bill on its breast.
HABITAT\ECOLOGY:The beautiful Brown Pelican spends its whole life along the coastal areas of the United States. Seldom is it seen out of sight of the oceans and gulfs. The pelican
flies with a few wing flaps and then uses its
wingspan to glide, sometimes just above the
water's surface. It nests in trees or bushes close to the water's edge and on isolated beaches where humans seldom go. Usually a large number of Brown Pelicans nest in colonies (many similar birds congregating in one area).
CONSERVATION:The Brown Pelican is another example of a bird becoming nearly extinct (no remaining living members of a species) due to the use of the pesticide DDT on farms. The Brown
Pelican played a major role in creating
awareness of pollution problems. Florida
had the only stable populations of Brown
Pelicans in the 1960's. The bird was placed