Brown Pelican

So I managed to get a couple of pictures of brown pelicans back in 2013, when we went down to South Padre Island in Texas for a vacation.

The pictures aren’t the greatest–but these pictures were taken with a different digital camera (that had a limited zoom range), and they were flying out pretty damn far from where i was standing in the water (or on the shore).

This was the first time I had been able to see either pelican in the wild.

Brown Pelicans flying over the bay

Did you know that there are actually five subspecies of the brown pelican??

Therefore it would be accurate to state that I’ve seen (and gotten pictures of) the Gulf Coast subspecies of brown pelican.

The adult brown pelican is actually a gray-brown bird with a yellow head and a white neck. During the breeding season, the back and sides of the neck will turn colors (and this is where the regional coloring differences of the brown pelican comes in):

On the west (Pacific) coast–the adults will have red skin on their throats during the breeding season; whereas the pelicans found on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts will have a more greenish-brown color on their necks.

Brown pelicans flying over the beach

The brown pelican can be found year round along the coasts (estuaries and coastal marine habitats). In terms of breeding–they breed between Maryland and Venezuela on the east/Gulf coasts; and between southern California and southern Ecuador on the west coast. Though there have been sightings of brown pelicans further north on both coasts.

Brown Pelican location map (c) birds of the world. Breeding range is from the faint orange dots southwards on both coasts.

The brown pelican is one of two pelican species (the other being the Peruvian pelican) that plunge-dives for their food. The other six species are more like ducks (they dip their beaks into the water to catch their food).

The brown pelican will tuck its head and rotate its body to the left–cushioning the trachea and esophagus (which are found on the right side of the neck) from the impact of its dive.

Brown pelican and gull flying over the ocean

The diet of the brown pelican is mainly fish, and they forage on shallow ocean waters (usually within 12 miles of the shore) and coastal estuaries. If the water is too shallow and muddy where they can’t plunge-dive, they will then feed by sitting on the surface like other pelican species.

The brown pelican is another example of a species that managed to make a comeback from the brink of extinction after the banning of the pesticide DTT.

They teetered towards extinction because pelicans incubate their eggs with the skin of their feet (basically standing on the eggs). During the period where DTT was used extensively (and washed into various rivers, lakes, and oceans due to runoff), pelicans were laying eggs that had extremely thin shells that couldn’t handle the pressure of the parents standing on them. Once the pesticide was banned and other regulations put into place, the brown (and other) pelicans were able to make a comeback.

There are still issues that face the brown pelican (namely environmental pollution and fishermen worrying that the pelicans are going to make off with all the fish), but they’re holding steady right now.

Two photography goals in terms of the brown pelican–getting a closer picture of them soaring over the waves or sitting on a barrier island; and then getting a picture of one plunge-diving into the water for its food.


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