The Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is the smallest of the eight species of pelican, although it is a large bird in nearly every other regard. It is 106–137 cm (42–54 in) in length, weighs from 2.75 to 5.5 kg (6-12 lb) and has a wingspan from 1.83 to 2.5 m (6 to 8.2 ft).
Range and Habits
It occurs on coasts in the Americas from Washington and Virginia south to northern Chile and the mouth of the Amazon River, as well as the island of Saut d'Eau in Trinidad and Tobago. Some immature birds may stray to inland freshwater lakes. After nesting, North American birds move in flocks further north along the coasts, returning to warmer waters for winter. Their young are hatched in broods of about 3, and eat around 150 lbs. of fish in the 8-10 month period they are cared for.
This bird is distinguished from the American White Pelican by its brown body and its habit of diving for fish from the air, as opposed to co-operative fishing from the surface. It eats mainly fish and amphibians as well as crustaceans. Groups of Brown Pelicans often travel in single file, flying low over the water's surface.
Threats and Conservation
It is a myth that Brown Pelicans can go blind from diving into the ocean. Pelicans can live and fish for up to thirty years without going blind. Pelicans can go blind from pollution, abuse and disease, including chemical spills near the coast, fishing line, and avian botulism from tainted fish caught in overly warm water.
Pesticides like DDT and dieldrin threatened the Brown Pelican's future in the southeast United States and California in the early 1970s. Pesticides also threatened the pelican population in Florida in this period. A research group from the University of Tampa headed by Dr. Ralph Schreiber conducted research in the Tampa Bay/St Petersburg area and found that DDT caused the pelican eggshells to be too thin and incapable of supporting the embryo to maturity. As a result of this research, DDT usage was eliminated in Florida and the rest of the country.
The Brown Pelican was listed as endangered since 1970 when its numbers dipped to 10,000. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List has listed the Brown Pelican as Least Concern since 1988. The US government remedied the situation by imposing a ban on the use of DDT in 1972. Since then, the population of Brown Pelican had been climbing and was removed from the list in November 2009. Current estimates place the population at 650,000 individuals.
In February 2010 many pelicans started dying along the coast of California and Oregon. Every year about 20,000 brown pelicans migrate to California from Oregon because of the cold weather. About 1,000 pelicans died in the winter of 2010 and there is no clear reason why. One possible reason is because of the disappearance of the fish that these pelicans eat. Some experts think that El Niño could be causing all the fish to disappear. El Niño causes the fish to scatter all around the ocean making them hard to find. El Niño also causes storms which makes the fish less visible to brown pelicans.
There are five subspecies:
- P. o. californicus (California Brown Pelican)
- P. o. carolinensis (Eastern Brown Pelican) Gmelin, 1789
- P. o. occidentalis (Caribbean Brown Pelican) Linnaeus, 1766
- P. o. murphy (Pacific Brown Pelican) Wetmore, 1945
- P. o. urinator (Galapagos Brown Pelican) Wetmore, 1945
The Peruvian Pelican, Pelecanus thagus, used to be considered a subspecies of the Brown Pelican (P. o. thagus). Due to its well-defined allopatry and because it is much larger and heavier than its relatives, it has been reclassified as a separate species.
The Brown Pelican is the national bird of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and state bird of Louisiana. It is also one of the mascots of Tulane University and is on its seal because of the Louisiana connection.
- ^ a b BirdLife International (2009) Pelecanus occidentalis In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. www.iucnredlist.org Retrieved on .
- ^ a b c "Brown Pelicans - Myths and Facts Part I". allatsea.net. http://www.allatsea.net/article/September_2005/Brown_Pelicans_-_Myths_and_Facts_Part_I. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- ^ San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/11/12/BAP71AIOJD.DTL, 12 November 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009.
- BirdLife International (2006). Pelecanus occidentalis. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
- All At Sea (2005)  retrieved 19 September 2009