The brown pelican feeds exclusively on marine fishes and occasional crustaceans by diving into the water head-first from heights of 6 to over 15 meters, capturing up to 4 pounds of prey daily with its long, slender beak (Farrand 1983; USFWS 1995; Harrison 1996). Studies have suggested that the height and angle of these dives vary with the age and skill level of the bird, and dive paths are altered to reduce glare on the surface of the water that may hinder catch success (Carl 1987). The large pouch below the bill acts as dip net to catch prey, but also holds fish for consumption until the water, as much as three gallons, is squeezed out. Once the water is removed, the prey is swallowed. In addition to catching and holding prey, the pouch also serves as a cooling mechanism for the bird in warm weather and a feeding trough for young (USFWS 1995).Predators: Little information is available concerning predators of the brown pelican. Due to their size and long sturdy bill, it is unlikely that adult birds are regularly preyed upon. However, birds of prey, alligators or large mammals could potentially consume eggs and hatchlings.Parasites: Like many other bird species, the brown pelican acts as a terminal or final host for several parasites acquired from a variety of prey items, including the parasitic worms Petagiger sp., Echinochasmus sp., Phagicola longus, Mesostephanus appendiculatoides, Contracaecum multipapillatum, and C. bioccai acquired from the black mullet, Mugil cephalus, the silver mullet, M. curema and other fish prey (Grimes et al. 1989; Zamparo et al. 2005; Mattiucci et al. 2008). Most of these parasites infect the gut, with some imposing minimal negative impacts on the pelican, while others are more virulent or increase the probability of infections by secondary pathogens (e.g. Grimes et al. 1989).
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