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Overview

Brief Summary

The brown pelican's image adorns postage stamps across the Americas, from Bermuda and Belize to Venezuela and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is Louisiana's state bird and the national bird for Turks and Caicos Islands.

With its dark plumage and distinct feeding methods, the brown pelican sets itself apart from seven other pelican species. Aside from being one of the smaller pelican species, the brown pelican is the only one that is known to dive and dine. Most pelican species feed by corralling fish into shallow waters through a group chase before scooping them up with their large beaks. Brown pelicans have their own distinct method: once they spot light reflecting off the scales of fish, they plunge into the water from heights of up to 70 feet where they scoop up fish, drain water through their beaks and tip their heads back to swallow (MarineBio.org: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, 2010 ). Air sacs beneath their skin protect them from injury when they hit the water (read more: General Description and Elkhorn Slough Birds: Brown Pelican.

The air sacs are also part of what helps these birds fly. Their body length measures 48 inches (1.2 m) on average, which is about the height of a nine-year old child. Yet their weight rarely exceeds 12 lbs (1.4 kg). The trick to keeping such a large bird aloft is not just a long wingspan, but a body made light through air sacs (AvianWeb.com, 2010).

The pelican's recent history is one of struggle against destructive human activities like unregulated hunting and pollution. Over the past century, their ill fortune has wrought positive change, inspiring the creation of one of the first bird refuges in the U.S. as well as a ban against toxic pesticides. Most recently, it became the inadvertent poster animal of the disastrous impact of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (read more: Conservation)

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Comprehensive Description

The brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, is characterized by an extremely large gray bill, pale yellow eyes, black legs and feet, and an unfeathered black throat pouch (e.g. Terres 1980; Farrand 1983). Plumage coloration varies with age and season, and descriptions are divided accordingly below. Both sexes exhibit identical coloration at each phase. Adult Breeding Plumage is primarily gray and brown, marked with a blackish belly, yellowish head, and chestnut or cinnamon brown nape and hindneck (Terres 1980; Farrand 1983; Harrison 1996).Adult Non-breeding Plumage is similar but duller to that of the adult coloration during the summer season (Farrand 1983; Harrison 1996). The nape and hindneck are mostly white with occasional tinges of yellow.Juvenile/Immature Plumage is mostly brown above, blending to a white breast and underparts (Farrand 1983; Harrison 1996). Adult plumage is acquired by the third year.
  • Farrand Jr., J (Ed.). 1983. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding Volume 1: Loons to Sandpipers. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 447 pp.
  • Kale II, HW & DS Maehr. 1990. Florida's Birds. Pineapple Press. Sarasota, FL. USA. 288 pp.
  • Terres, JK. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 1109 pp.
  • FWCC. 2009. Florida's endangered species, threatened species, and species of special concern. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/imperiledSpp_index.htm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Carl, RA. 1987. Age-class variation in foraging techniques by brown pelicans. The Condor 89: 525-533.
  • Federal Register. 2009. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Final Rule. Department of the Interior. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal Register Vol.17, No. 20. Online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2009_register&docid=fr17no09-14 (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FNAI. 2001. Field Guide to the Rare Animals of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Online at http://www.fnai.org/fieldguides.cfm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FWCC. 2003. Florida's Breeding Bird Atlas: A Collaborative Study of Florida's Birdlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://www.myfwc.com/bba/ (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Harrison, P. 1996. Seabirds of the World: A Photographic Guide. Princeton Univ. Press. Princeton, NJ. USA. 317 pp.
  • Klein, ML, Humphrey, SR & HF Percival. 1995. Effects of ecotourism on distribution of waterbirds in a wildlife refuge. Conserv. Biol. 9: 1454-1465.
  • Grimes, J, Suto, B, Greve. JH & HF Albers. 1989. Effect of selected anthelmintics on three common helminthes in the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). J. Wildlife Diseases 25: 139-142.
  • Kushlan, JA & PC Frohring. 1985. Decreases in the brown pelican population in southern Florida. Colonial Waterbirds 8: 83-95.
  • Mattiucci, S, Paoletti, M, Olivero-Verbel, J, Baldiris, R, Arroyo-Salgado, B, Garbin, L, Navone, G & G Nascetti. 2008. Contracaecum bioccai n. sp. from the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis (L.) in Columbia (Nematoda: Anisakidae): morphology, molecular evidence and its genetic relationship with congeners from fish-eating birds. Syst. Parasitol. 69: 101-121.
  • Peterson, RT. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA. USA. 384 pp.S
  • chreiber, RW. 1980. Nesting chronology of the eastern brown pelican. The Auk 97: 491-508.
  • Schreiber, RW & PJ Mock. 1988. Eastern brown pelicans: What does 60 years of banding tell us? J. Field Ornithol. 59: 171-182.
  • Schreiber, RW & EA Schreiber. 1983. Use of age-classes in monitoring population stability of brown pelicans. J. Wildl. Manage. 47: 105-111.
  • USFWS. Brown Pelican: Endangered Species Success Story. Biologue Series. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Zamparo, D, Overstreet, RM & DR Brooks. 2005. A new species of Petasiger (Digenea: Echonostomiformes: Echinostomatidae) in the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, (Aves: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae), from the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. J. Parasitol. 91: 1465-1467.
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Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Transient

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Breeding range extends along the Pacific coast from southern California to South America and along Atlantic, Gulf, and Caribbean coasts from Maryland south to Florida and westward to southern Texas, plus the Bahamas, West Indies, Yucatan Peninsula, and off Venezuela and the Caribbean coast of Colombia. During the nonbreeding season, brown pelicans range in Pacific coastal waters north to southern British Columbia (after breeding, before winter); in western North America, the species winters mainly from California south; in the southeastern U.S., the primary winter range includes Florida and the Gulf Coast.

Subspecies CAROLINENSIS: breeds locally in Maryland and Virginia and south to Florida (primary nesting range), also locally in Louisiana (where reintroduced) and in central coastal Texas; breeds locally also off northeastern Yucatan and Belize, and ranges southward through coastal Honduras and Costa Rica to Panama, where local breeding occurs off the Pacific coast; vagrants wander north to New England and occur casually inland to the Great Lakes and Great Plains states (Johnsgard 1993). Breeds also in the Bahamas (Sprunt 1984) (extirpated, according to Johnsgard 1993). Ranges throughout breeding range and along eastern shores of Mexico south along Central America to the Caribbean coasts of Colombia and Venezuela, and through the Greater and Lesser Antilles to Trinidad; and on the Pacific coast of Central America (AOU 1957).

Subspecies CALIFORNICUS: breeds along Pacific coast in southern California (Anacapa Island), and in Mexico on islands off Baja California and on islands in the Gulf of California (south to Isabella and the Tres Marias Islands); possibly locally along the coast of Sonora and Sinaloa; vagrants have occurred north to British Columbia and Idaho (Johnsgard 1993).

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Range Description

This species is found in the Americas, breeding along the Pacific coast from California (USA) to Chile and along the Atlantic coast from South Carolina (USA) through the West Indies to Venezuela, ranging as far as Canada and Tierra del Fuego (Chile) in the non-breeding season (del Hoyo et al. 1992).
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Geographic Range

Brown pelicans are strictly coastal, and living on the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts north to Nova Scotia.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

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P. occidentalis is found on both coasts of North and South America (Harrison 1996). Its range extends along the Pacific coast from Washington south to Peru, including the Galapagos Islands, and on the Atlantic coast from North Carolina throughout the Caribbean to Brazil. Occasionally, birds are spotted as far north as British Columbia and Nova Scotia on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, respectively (Farrand 1983). The species is common in the southeast United States and is the state bird of Louisiana (Terres 1980). Populations are found around beaches, bays and a variety of habitats in tidal estuaries (Farrand 1983). Brown pelicans are rarely seen inland except accidentally as the result of hurricanes and other strong storms (Terres 1980).Indian River Lagoon (India River Lagoon) Distribution: Brown pelicans are found throughout the India River Lagoon in all habitats. Large groups of birds tend to gather near marinas, jetties and other popular fishing spots to feed on scraps as fishers clean their catch.
  • Farrand Jr., J (Ed.). 1983. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding Volume 1: Loons to Sandpipers. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 447 pp.
  • Kale II, HW & DS Maehr. 1990. Florida's Birds. Pineapple Press. Sarasota, FL. USA. 288 pp.
  • Terres, JK. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 1109 pp.
  • FWCC. 2009. Florida's endangered species, threatened species, and species of special concern. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/imperiledSpp_index.htm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Carl, RA. 1987. Age-class variation in foraging techniques by brown pelicans. The Condor 89: 525-533.
  • Federal Register. 2009. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Final Rule. Department of the Interior. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal Register Vol.17, No. 20. Online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2009_register&docid=fr17no09-14 (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FNAI. 2001. Field Guide to the Rare Animals of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Online at http://www.fnai.org/fieldguides.cfm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FWCC. 2003. Florida's Breeding Bird Atlas: A Collaborative Study of Florida's Birdlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://www.myfwc.com/bba/ (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Harrison, P. 1996. Seabirds of the World: A Photographic Guide. Princeton Univ. Press. Princeton, NJ. USA. 317 pp.
  • Klein, ML, Humphrey, SR & HF Percival. 1995. Effects of ecotourism on distribution of waterbirds in a wildlife refuge. Conserv. Biol. 9: 1454-1465.
  • Grimes, J, Suto, B, Greve. JH & HF Albers. 1989. Effect of selected anthelmintics on three common helminthes in the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). J. Wildlife Diseases 25: 139-142.
  • Kushlan, JA & PC Frohring. 1985. Decreases in the brown pelican population in southern Florida. Colonial Waterbirds 8: 83-95.
  • Mattiucci, S, Paoletti, M, Olivero-Verbel, J, Baldiris, R, Arroyo-Salgado, B, Garbin, L, Navone, G & G Nascetti. 2008. Contracaecum bioccai n. sp. from the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis (L.) in Columbia (Nematoda: Anisakidae): morphology, molecular evidence and its genetic relationship with congeners from fish-eating birds. Syst. Parasitol. 69: 101-121.
  • Peterson, RT. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA. USA. 384 pp.S
  • chreiber, RW. 1980. Nesting chronology of the eastern brown pelican. The Auk 97: 491-508.
  • Schreiber, RW & PJ Mock. 1988. Eastern brown pelicans: What does 60 years of banding tell us? J. Field Ornithol. 59: 171-182.
  • Schreiber, RW & EA Schreiber. 1983. Use of age-classes in monitoring population stability of brown pelicans. J. Wildl. Manage. 47: 105-111.
  • USFWS. Brown Pelican: Endangered Species Success Story. Biologue Series. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Zamparo, D, Overstreet, RM & DR Brooks. 2005. A new species of Petasiger (Digenea: Echonostomiformes: Echinostomatidae) in the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, (Aves: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae), from the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. J. Parasitol. 91: 1465-1467.
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Source: Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Brown pelicans are dark and bulky. The sexes are similar in plumage and both are 4-4.5 ft (114-137 cm) long. The head is white with a pale yellow wash on the crown; the long bill is grayish; back, rump, and tail are streaked with gray and dark brown; the breast and belly are a blackish-brown; eyes pale yellow; and legs and feet are black. Immatures have brownish- grey necks and white underparts. All pelicans have bills that are as long or longer than their heads. The huge naked skin pouch suspended from the lower half of the hooked bill holds two or three times more than the bird's stomach-about 3 gallons of water and fish. Pelicans hold their catch and let the water drain from the corners of their mouths before they swallow. Fish are never carried in the pouch, but in the gullet or esophagus. The pouch, besides acting as a dip net, is also pulsated in extreme heat to allow cooling. Pelicaniformes are the only birds that share in common a totipalmate foot, that is, one in which all four toes, including the hind one, are united by a web of skin.

Range mass: 3000 to 4500 g.

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Size

Length: 122 cm

Weight: 3636 grams

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Although it is considered the smallest member of the pelican family (Terres 1980), P. occidentalis is a large marine bird often measuring over 1 m in length (Harrison 1996) with a wingspan of nearly 2.3 meters (Farrand 1983) and a total weight of about 8 pounds (3.6 kg). (Terres 1980). Males average a slightly larger body size than females (Terres 1980). Lifespan varies with environmental conditions, food availability and other factors. Some banded individuals have been documented to exceed 31 years of age (Terres 1980).
  • Farrand Jr., J (Ed.). 1983. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding Volume 1: Loons to Sandpipers. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 447 pp.
  • Kale II, HW & DS Maehr. 1990. Florida's Birds. Pineapple Press. Sarasota, FL. USA. 288 pp.
  • Terres, JK. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 1109 pp.
  • FWCC. 2009. Florida's endangered species, threatened species, and species of special concern. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/imperiledSpp_index.htm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Carl, RA. 1987. Age-class variation in foraging techniques by brown pelicans. The Condor 89: 525-533.
  • Federal Register. 2009. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Final Rule. Department of the Interior. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal Register Vol.17, No. 20. Online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2009_register&docid=fr17no09-14 (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FNAI. 2001. Field Guide to the Rare Animals of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Online at http://www.fnai.org/fieldguides.cfm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FWCC. 2003. Florida's Breeding Bird Atlas: A Collaborative Study of Florida's Birdlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://www.myfwc.com/bba/ (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Harrison, P. 1996. Seabirds of the World: A Photographic Guide. Princeton Univ. Press. Princeton, NJ. USA. 317 pp.
  • Klein, ML, Humphrey, SR & HF Percival. 1995. Effects of ecotourism on distribution of waterbirds in a wildlife refuge. Conserv. Biol. 9: 1454-1465.
  • Grimes, J, Suto, B, Greve. JH & HF Albers. 1989. Effect of selected anthelmintics on three common helminthes in the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). J. Wildlife Diseases 25: 139-142.
  • Kushlan, JA & PC Frohring. 1985. Decreases in the brown pelican population in southern Florida. Colonial Waterbirds 8: 83-95.
  • Mattiucci, S, Paoletti, M, Olivero-Verbel, J, Baldiris, R, Arroyo-Salgado, B, Garbin, L, Navone, G & G Nascetti. 2008. Contracaecum bioccai n. sp. from the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis (L.) in Columbia (Nematoda: Anisakidae): morphology, molecular evidence and its genetic relationship with congeners from fish-eating birds. Syst. Parasitol. 69: 101-121.
  • Peterson, RT. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA. USA. 384 pp.S
  • chreiber, RW. 1980. Nesting chronology of the eastern brown pelican. The Auk 97: 491-508.
  • Schreiber, RW & PJ Mock. 1988. Eastern brown pelicans: What does 60 years of banding tell us? J. Field Ornithol. 59: 171-182.
  • Schreiber, RW & EA Schreiber. 1983. Use of age-classes in monitoring population stability of brown pelicans. J. Wildl. Manage. 47: 105-111.
  • USFWS. Brown Pelican: Endangered Species Success Story. Biologue Series. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Zamparo, D, Overstreet, RM & DR Brooks. 2005. A new species of Petasiger (Digenea: Echonostomiformes: Echinostomatidae) in the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, (Aves: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae), from the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. J. Parasitol. 91: 1465-1467.
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Diagnostic Description

Differs from the white pelican (PELECANUS ERYTHRORHYNCHOS) in being mainly grayish brown overall instead of white.

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Look Alikes

The brown pelican and the Peruvian pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis thagus, are the only true marine pelican species (Harrison 1996). The ranges of the two species rarely overlap, facilitating identification of the birds in their native habitats. However, if directly compared, the brown pelican can be distinguished by a smaller body size, duller plumage, smaller crest and an upperwing lacking the pale forewing patch characteristic of the Peruvian subspecies.The American white pelican, P. erythrorhynchos, is also quite similar to the brown pelican. However, unlike P. occidentalis, the white pelican is larger, bears white plumage in all seasons, and often inhabits inland prairies and coastal areas near freshwater (Farrand 1983). Flight Patterns & Locomotion: While in flight, the brown pelican folds its neck back in a similar fashion to a heron (Farrand 1983), staying aloft with alternating strong strokes and glides. Small flocks of individuals may fly in various formations, and often skim just above the surface of the water. Flight speeds of some individuals have been recorded up to 35 mph (Terres 1980). Birds are clumsy on land, but maneuver effectively in the water and swim well (USFWS 1995).
  • Farrand Jr., J (Ed.). 1983. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding Volume 1: Loons to Sandpipers. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 447 pp.
  • Kale II, HW & DS Maehr. 1990. Florida's Birds. Pineapple Press. Sarasota, FL. USA. 288 pp.
  • Terres, JK. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 1109 pp.
  • FWCC. 2009. Florida's endangered species, threatened species, and species of special concern. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/imperiledSpp_index.htm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Carl, RA. 1987. Age-class variation in foraging techniques by brown pelicans. The Condor 89: 525-533.
  • Federal Register. 2009. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Final Rule. Department of the Interior. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal Register Vol.17, No. 20. Online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2009_register&docid=fr17no09-14 (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FNAI. 2001. Field Guide to the Rare Animals of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Online at http://www.fnai.org/fieldguides.cfm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FWCC. 2003. Florida's Breeding Bird Atlas: A Collaborative Study of Florida's Birdlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://www.myfwc.com/bba/ (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Harrison, P. 1996. Seabirds of the World: A Photographic Guide. Princeton Univ. Press. Princeton, NJ. USA. 317 pp.
  • Klein, ML, Humphrey, SR & HF Percival. 1995. Effects of ecotourism on distribution of waterbirds in a wildlife refuge. Conserv. Biol. 9: 1454-1465.
  • Grimes, J, Suto, B, Greve. JH & HF Albers. 1989. Effect of selected anthelmintics on three common helminthes in the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). J. Wildlife Diseases 25: 139-142.
  • Kushlan, JA & PC Frohring. 1985. Decreases in the brown pelican population in southern Florida. Colonial Waterbirds 8: 83-95.
  • Mattiucci, S, Paoletti, M, Olivero-Verbel, J, Baldiris, R, Arroyo-Salgado, B, Garbin, L, Navone, G & G Nascetti. 2008. Contracaecum bioccai n. sp. from the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis (L.) in Columbia (Nematoda: Anisakidae): morphology, molecular evidence and its genetic relationship with congeners from fish-eating birds. Syst. Parasitol. 69: 101-121.
  • Peterson, RT. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA. USA. 384 pp.S
  • chreiber, RW. 1980. Nesting chronology of the eastern brown pelican. The Auk 97: 491-508.
  • Schreiber, RW & PJ Mock. 1988. Eastern brown pelicans: What does 60 years of banding tell us? J. Field Ornithol. 59: 171-182.
  • Schreiber, RW & EA Schreiber. 1983. Use of age-classes in monitoring population stability of brown pelicans. J. Wildl. Manage. 47: 105-111.
  • USFWS. Brown Pelican: Endangered Species Success Story. Biologue Series. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Zamparo, D, Overstreet, RM & DR Brooks. 2005. A new species of Petasiger (Digenea: Echonostomiformes: Echinostomatidae) in the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, (Aves: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae), from the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. J. Parasitol. 91: 1465-1467.
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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Brown pelicans inhabitat mainly coastal waters and rarely are seen inland or far out at sea. They feed mostly in shallow estuarine waters, less often up to 40 miles from shore. They make extensive use of sand spits, offshore sand bars, and islets for nocturnal roosting and daily loafing, especially nonbreeders and during the non-nesting season. Dry roosting sites are essential.

Nesting occurs usually on coastal islands, on the ground or in small bushes and trees (Palmer 1962), including the middle or upper parts of steep rocky slopes of small islands in California and Baja California and low-lying islands landward of barrier islands or reefs on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where nests often are in mangroves, sometimes in Australian "pines," red-cedars, live oaks, redbays, or sea grapes. In the subtropics and tropics, mangrove vegetation constitutes an important roosting and nesting substrate (Collazo and Klaas 1985, Schreiber 1979, Schreiber and Schreiber 1982). Brown pelican may shift among different breeding sites, apparently in response to changing food supply distribution (Anderson and Gress 1983) and/or to erosion/flooding of nesting sites.

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This species inhabits shallow inshore waters, estuaries and bays, avoiding the open sea. Its diet is comprised mostly of fish, causing great congregations in areas with abundant prey. Prey species include sardines and anchovies, but has been seem to take shrimps and carrion, and even nestling egrets. It regularly feeds by plunge-diving and is often the victim of kleptoparasites. The timing of breeding varies depending on latitude, breeding in spring in the extreme north of its range compared to all year round in the tropics. Brown Pelicans are colonial, with some colonies being maintained over several years. It mostly nests on the ground, sometimes on cliffs and less often in small trees or bushes. Movements and migrations depend on local conditions (e.g. northern populations migrate south) (del Hoyo et al. 1992).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
  • Marine
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Brown Pelicans live in all habitats on the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts. They are rarely seen inland.

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

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Depth range based on 5052 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 1054 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 12.220 - 27.601
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.240 - 3.951
  Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 36.362
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.518 - 6.395
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.101 - 0.674
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.868 - 16.169

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 12.220 - 27.601

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.240 - 3.951

Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 36.362

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.518 - 6.395

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.101 - 0.674

Silicate (umol/l): 0.868 - 16.169
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Many stay close to nesting areas in winter. A portion of the eastern subspecies migrates to Florida, the Caribbean coasts of Colombia and Venezuela, and the Greater Antilles for winter. During cold winters, some Texas breeders winter along the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Individuals from breeding areas north of Florida winter mainly in Florida and Cuba; young and adults from Florida breeding colonies are more sedentary (young generally do not disperse more than 250 km from natal areas, adults may move up to 450-575 km from colony during the nonbreeding season) (Johnsgard 1993).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Eats mainly fishes, especially menhaden, mullet, sardines, pinfish, and anchovies in U.S. waters; sometimes euphausiids; dives into water from air (USFWS 1980). Feeds by diving in deeper water, by swimming, sometimes in cooperative groups, in shallower water (Hilty and Brown 1986). Rarely reported scavenging or preying on eggs or young of water birds. Forages in shallow estuarine and inshore waters mostly within 10 km of the coast (Johnsgard 1993).

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Food Habits

Brown pelicans dive from the air for fish. Menhaden account for 90-95% of their food. They also prey on pigfish, pinfish, herring, sheepshead, silversides, mullet, grass and top minnows, and they sometimes eat crustaceans, usually prawns.

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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).
  • Farrand Jr., J (Ed.). 1983. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding Volume 1: Loons to Sandpipers. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 447 pp.
  • Kale II, HW & DS Maehr. 1990. Florida's Birds. Pineapple Press. Sarasota, FL. USA. 288 pp.
  • Terres, JK. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 1109 pp.
  • FWCC. 2009. Florida's endangered species, threatened species, and species of special concern. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/imperiledSpp_index.htm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Carl, RA. 1987. Age-class variation in foraging techniques by brown pelicans. The Condor 89: 525-533.
  • Federal Register. 2009. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Final Rule. Department of the Interior. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal Register Vol.17, No. 20. Online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2009_register&docid=fr17no09-14 (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FNAI. 2001. Field Guide to the Rare Animals of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Online at http://www.fnai.org/fieldguides.cfm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FWCC. 2003. Florida's Breeding Bird Atlas: A Collaborative Study of Florida's Birdlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://www.myfwc.com/bba/ (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Harrison, P. 1996. Seabirds of the World: A Photographic Guide. Princeton Univ. Press. Princeton, NJ. USA. 317 pp.
  • Klein, ML, Humphrey, SR & HF Percival. 1995. Effects of ecotourism on distribution of waterbirds in a wildlife refuge. Conserv. Biol. 9: 1454-1465.
  • Grimes, J, Suto, B, Greve. JH & HF Albers. 1989. Effect of selected anthelmintics on three common helminthes in the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). J. Wildlife Diseases 25: 139-142.
  • Kushlan, JA & PC Frohring. 1985. Decreases in the brown pelican population in southern Florida. Colonial Waterbirds 8: 83-95.
  • Mattiucci, S, Paoletti, M, Olivero-Verbel, J, Baldiris, R, Arroyo-Salgado, B, Garbin, L, Navone, G & G Nascetti. 2008. Contracaecum bioccai n. sp. from the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis (L.) in Columbia (Nematoda: Anisakidae): morphology, molecular evidence and its genetic relationship with congeners from fish-eating birds. Syst. Parasitol. 69: 101-121.
  • Peterson, RT. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA. USA. 384 pp.S
  • chreiber, RW. 1980. Nesting chronology of the eastern brown pelican. The Auk 97: 491-508.
  • Schreiber, RW & PJ Mock. 1988. Eastern brown pelicans: What does 60 years of banding tell us? J. Field Ornithol. 59: 171-182.
  • Schreiber, RW & EA Schreiber. 1983. Use of age-classes in monitoring population stability of brown pelicans. J. Wildl. Manage. 47: 105-111.
  • USFWS. Brown Pelican: Endangered Species Success Story. Biologue Series. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Zamparo, D, Overstreet, RM & DR Brooks. 2005. A new species of Petasiger (Digenea: Echonostomiformes: Echinostomatidae) in the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, (Aves: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae), from the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. J. Parasitol. 91: 1465-1467.
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Associations

Although there are no obligate associations documented between the brown pelican and other species, P. occidentalis is commonly found alongside other organisms from the seagrass beds, mangrove forests, tidal flats and other ecosystems in which it resides. For more extensive information on these environments and their associated species found in the IRL, please visit the Habitats of the IRL page.
  • Farrand Jr., J (Ed.). 1983. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding Volume 1: Loons to Sandpipers. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 447 pp.
  • Kale II, HW & DS Maehr. 1990. Florida's Birds. Pineapple Press. Sarasota, FL. USA. 288 pp.
  • Terres, JK. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 1109 pp.
  • FWCC. 2009. Florida's endangered species, threatened species, and species of special concern. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/imperiledSpp_index.htm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Carl, RA. 1987. Age-class variation in foraging techniques by brown pelicans. The Condor 89: 525-533.
  • Federal Register. 2009. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Final Rule. Department of the Interior. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal Register Vol.17, No. 20. Online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2009_register&docid=fr17no09-14 (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FNAI. 2001. Field Guide to the Rare Animals of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Online at http://www.fnai.org/fieldguides.cfm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FWCC. 2003. Florida's Breeding Bird Atlas: A Collaborative Study of Florida's Birdlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://www.myfwc.com/bba/ (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Harrison, P. 1996. Seabirds of the World: A Photographic Guide. Princeton Univ. Press. Princeton, NJ. USA. 317 pp.
  • Klein, ML, Humphrey, SR & HF Percival. 1995. Effects of ecotourism on distribution of waterbirds in a wildlife refuge. Conserv. Biol. 9: 1454-1465.
  • Grimes, J, Suto, B, Greve. JH & HF Albers. 1989. Effect of selected anthelmintics on three common helminthes in the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). J. Wildlife Diseases 25: 139-142.
  • Kushlan, JA & PC Frohring. 1985. Decreases in the brown pelican population in southern Florida. Colonial Waterbirds 8: 83-95.
  • Mattiucci, S, Paoletti, M, Olivero-Verbel, J, Baldiris, R, Arroyo-Salgado, B, Garbin, L, Navone, G & G Nascetti. 2008. Contracaecum bioccai n. sp. from the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis (L.) in Columbia (Nematoda: Anisakidae): morphology, molecular evidence and its genetic relationship with congeners from fish-eating birds. Syst. Parasitol. 69: 101-121.
  • Peterson, RT. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA. USA. 384 pp.S
  • chreiber, RW. 1980. Nesting chronology of the eastern brown pelican. The Auk 97: 491-508.
  • Schreiber, RW & PJ Mock. 1988. Eastern brown pelicans: What does 60 years of banding tell us? J. Field Ornithol. 59: 171-182.
  • Schreiber, RW & EA Schreiber. 1983. Use of age-classes in monitoring population stability of brown pelicans. J. Wildl. Manage. 47: 105-111.
  • USFWS. Brown Pelican: Endangered Species Success Story. Biologue Series. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Zamparo, D, Overstreet, RM & DR Brooks. 2005. A new species of Petasiger (Digenea: Echonostomiformes: Echinostomatidae) in the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, (Aves: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae), from the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. J. Parasitol. 91: 1465-1467.
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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

Comments: Many occurrences are distributed throughout the coastal range in North, Central, and South America.

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Global Abundance

100,000 - 1,000,000 individuals

Comments: Breeding population estimates (pairs): Virginia (50-100 in 1990; Byrd and Johnston 1991), North Carolina (2800), South Carolina (9800), Texas (500 in 1989), Florida (9950 in 1995), Louisiana (1098 in 1990); see Spendelow and Patton (1988) and Clapp and Buckley (1984). Florida's 1995 nesting population was assumed to represent a total population of between 27,100 and 43,800 individuals. Breeding populations in Panama and Mexico are believed to be very large (i.e., 50,000+ birds and 40,000 pairs, respectively) (Crivelli and Anderson 1984), though subject to considerable fluctuation. Subspecies CALIFORNICUS: total population was about 48,500 pairs in the late 1980s; 3000 pairs in southern California, 33,000 pairs in Gulf of California, 7500 pairs on islands off mainland Mexico, and 5000 pairs in southwestern Baja California. Southern California Bight population was about 4200 pairs in 1989 (California Department of Fish and Game 1990). Populations elsewhere are poorly known.

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Brown pelicans are quite abundant along the east coast of the U.S., although populations in parts of the Gulf of Mexico, along the Pacific coast and in Central and South America are still continuing to recover from past populations declines (see 'Threats & Conservation' below).
  • Farrand Jr., J (Ed.). 1983. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding Volume 1: Loons to Sandpipers. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 447 pp.
  • Kale II, HW & DS Maehr. 1990. Florida's Birds. Pineapple Press. Sarasota, FL. USA. 288 pp.
  • Terres, JK. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 1109 pp.
  • FWCC. 2009. Florida's endangered species, threatened species, and species of special concern. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/imperiledSpp_index.htm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Carl, RA. 1987. Age-class variation in foraging techniques by brown pelicans. The Condor 89: 525-533.
  • Federal Register. 2009. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Final Rule. Department of the Interior. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal Register Vol.17, No. 20. Online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2009_register&docid=fr17no09-14 (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FNAI. 2001. Field Guide to the Rare Animals of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Online at http://www.fnai.org/fieldguides.cfm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FWCC. 2003. Florida's Breeding Bird Atlas: A Collaborative Study of Florida's Birdlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://www.myfwc.com/bba/ (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Harrison, P. 1996. Seabirds of the World: A Photographic Guide. Princeton Univ. Press. Princeton, NJ. USA. 317 pp.
  • Klein, ML, Humphrey, SR & HF Percival. 1995. Effects of ecotourism on distribution of waterbirds in a wildlife refuge. Conserv. Biol. 9: 1454-1465.
  • Grimes, J, Suto, B, Greve. JH & HF Albers. 1989. Effect of selected anthelmintics on three common helminthes in the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). J. Wildlife Diseases 25: 139-142.
  • Kushlan, JA & PC Frohring. 1985. Decreases in the brown pelican population in southern Florida. Colonial Waterbirds 8: 83-95.
  • Mattiucci, S, Paoletti, M, Olivero-Verbel, J, Baldiris, R, Arroyo-Salgado, B, Garbin, L, Navone, G & G Nascetti. 2008. Contracaecum bioccai n. sp. from the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis (L.) in Columbia (Nematoda: Anisakidae): morphology, molecular evidence and its genetic relationship with congeners from fish-eating birds. Syst. Parasitol. 69: 101-121.
  • Peterson, RT. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA. USA. 384 pp.S
  • chreiber, RW. 1980. Nesting chronology of the eastern brown pelican. The Auk 97: 491-508.
  • Schreiber, RW & PJ Mock. 1988. Eastern brown pelicans: What does 60 years of banding tell us? J. Field Ornithol. 59: 171-182.
  • Schreiber, RW & EA Schreiber. 1983. Use of age-classes in monitoring population stability of brown pelicans. J. Wildl. Manage. 47: 105-111.
  • USFWS. Brown Pelican: Endangered Species Success Story. Biologue Series. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Zamparo, D, Overstreet, RM & DR Brooks. 2005. A new species of Petasiger (Digenea: Echonostomiformes: Echinostomatidae) in the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, (Aves: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae), from the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. J. Parasitol. 91: 1465-1467.
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General Ecology

Populations fluctuate considerably from year to year and from place to place.

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Comments: Most activity diurnal, little during twilight.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
334 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 43 years Observations: Banding studies suggest that only 30% of animals survive their first year of life and less than 2% live more than 10 years. Maximum longevity is 43 years (http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/).
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Reproduction

Along the west coast of North America, egg laying may occur from late winter to early spring (peak usually in March or April but may vary among colonies and from year to year). In southeastern North America, southern populations nest irregularly, usually beginning in late fall and extending through June; northernmost populations nest in spring and summer; intermediate populations nest, somewhat irregularly, in winter and spring. Clutch size averages 2-3. Incubation, by both sexes, lasts about 28-30 days. Young leave ground nests at about 35 days, first fly at 71-88 days; leave nests in mangroves at about 63 days. Some first breed at two years in some colonies (e.g., newly formed ones), possibly not until about four to seven years in stable populations (see Johnsgard 1993). Reproductive success varies with level of disturbance by humans, starvation of young, and/or flooding of nests, but typically the number of young fledged per nest averages one or less. This is a long-lived bird, and reproduction tends to be "boom or bust." Colonies include up to 150 pairs in Trinidad.

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Male pelicans pick out the nesting sites and perform an "advertising" display which attracts the females. Once a pair forms a bond, overt communiction between them is minimal. Pelican nesting peaks during March and April; nests are in colonies either in trees, bushes, or on the ground. Those placed in trees are made of reeds, grasses, straw, and sticks; if on the ground, nests consist of a shallow scrape lined with feathers and a rim of soil built 4-10'' above the ground. Brown Pelicans lay 2-3 chalky white eggs. Incubation is about 28-30 days; young walk out of the nests on the ground about 35 days after hatching but do not leave treetop nests until about 63 -88 days for their first flight.

Average time to hatching: 29 days.

Average eggs per season: 2.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
730 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
730 days.

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P. occidentalis is a social species, gregarious throughout the year with colonial breeding behavior (Harrison 1996). Breeding dates vary with location, but most populations reproduce from March to August. At the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in the IRL, breeding continues nearly year-round (Terres 1980).During the breeding season, nests in trees and bushes are constructed from straw or grass placed on mounds of sticks woven onto a supporting branch (Terres 1980). Ground nests are comprised of feather-lined impressions protected with a 10-25 cm rim of soil and debris. Pelicans usually lay 2-3 eggs at a time, incubating them for a period of 28-30 days (Terres 1980). Chicks in ground nests venture out by walking after approximately 35 days, while those in trees wait for about 65-80 days to fly from the nest.Hybrids of brown and white pelicans are possible, and one such offspring was on display at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. in 1937 (Terres 1980).Voice: Adult brown pelicans are silent, rarely emitting a low croak, while hatchlings frequently squeal (e.g. Peterson 1980).
  • Farrand Jr., J (Ed.). 1983. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding Volume 1: Loons to Sandpipers. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 447 pp.
  • Kale II, HW & DS Maehr. 1990. Florida's Birds. Pineapple Press. Sarasota, FL. USA. 288 pp.
  • Terres, JK. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 1109 pp.
  • FWCC. 2009. Florida's endangered species, threatened species, and species of special concern. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/imperiledSpp_index.htm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Carl, RA. 1987. Age-class variation in foraging techniques by brown pelicans. The Condor 89: 525-533.
  • Federal Register. 2009. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Final Rule. Department of the Interior. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal Register Vol.17, No. 20. Online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2009_register&docid=fr17no09-14 (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FNAI. 2001. Field Guide to the Rare Animals of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Online at http://www.fnai.org/fieldguides.cfm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FWCC. 2003. Florida's Breeding Bird Atlas: A Collaborative Study of Florida's Birdlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://www.myfwc.com/bba/ (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Harrison, P. 1996. Seabirds of the World: A Photographic Guide. Princeton Univ. Press. Princeton, NJ. USA. 317 pp.
  • Klein, ML, Humphrey, SR & HF Percival. 1995. Effects of ecotourism on distribution of waterbirds in a wildlife refuge. Conserv. Biol. 9: 1454-1465.
  • Grimes, J, Suto, B, Greve. JH & HF Albers. 1989. Effect of selected anthelmintics on three common helminthes in the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). J. Wildlife Diseases 25: 139-142.
  • Kushlan, JA & PC Frohring. 1985. Decreases in the brown pelican population in southern Florida. Colonial Waterbirds 8: 83-95.
  • Mattiucci, S, Paoletti, M, Olivero-Verbel, J, Baldiris, R, Arroyo-Salgado, B, Garbin, L, Navone, G & G Nascetti. 2008. Contracaecum bioccai n. sp. from the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis (L.) in Columbia (Nematoda: Anisakidae): morphology, molecular evidence and its genetic relationship with congeners from fish-eating birds. Syst. Parasitol. 69: 101-121.
  • Peterson, RT. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA. USA. 384 pp.S
  • chreiber, RW. 1980. Nesting chronology of the eastern brown pelican. The Auk 97: 491-508.
  • Schreiber, RW & PJ Mock. 1988. Eastern brown pelicans: What does 60 years of banding tell us? J. Field Ornithol. 59: 171-182.
  • Schreiber, RW & EA Schreiber. 1983. Use of age-classes in monitoring population stability of brown pelicans. J. Wildl. Manage. 47: 105-111.
  • USFWS. Brown Pelican: Endangered Species Success Story. Biologue Series. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Zamparo, D, Overstreet, RM & DR Brooks. 2005. A new species of Petasiger (Digenea: Echonostomiformes: Echinostomatidae) in the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, (Aves: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae), from the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. J. Parasitol. 91: 1465-1467.
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Body protected from diving impact: brown pelican
 

The body of the brown pelican is protected from impact during plunge-diving thanks to subcutaneous air-sacs.

   
  "Several species of pelicans, boobies, and gannets have extensive subcutaneous air sacs.6,18 In the plunge-diving brown pelicans these air sacs are thought to serve as shock absorbers to decrease the impact of hitting water from great heights.6" (Fowler and Miller 2003:118)

Watch Video
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Fowler, ME; Miller, RE. 2003. Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pelecanus occidentalis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Barcode data: Pelecanus occidentalis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 3 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

CGATGATTATTCTCAACCAACCACAAAGATATTGGCACCCTATACTTAATCTTCGGCGCATGAGCCGGAATAGTTGGAACAGCCCTT---AGCCTACTCATTCGGGCCGAACTAGGCCAGCCCGGAACCCTCTTGGGAGAT---GACCAAATCTATAATGTAATCGTCACTGCCCATGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTCATAGTAATACCGATCATAATTGGAGGCTTTGGAAACTGACTAGTTCCCCTCATA---ATCGGCGCCCCGGACATAGCATTCCCACGTATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTCCTACCCCCATCCTTCCTACTCCTCCTAGCCTCATCCACAGTAGAAGCAGGTGCAGGAACAGGATGAACTGTGTACCCCCCACTAGCTGGTAACCTAGCCCATGCCGGAGCCTCAGTAGATCTG---GCTATCTTCTCGCTTCACTTAGCAGGGGTATCCTCTATCCTAGGCGCAATCAACTTCATTACAACCGCCATCAACATAAAACCACCAGCCCTATCACAATATCAAACTCCATTATTCGTATGATCCGTCCTCATCACTGCCGTCCTACTACTATTATCCCTCCCAGTCTTAGCCGCC---GGCATCACCATACTCCTCACAGACCGAAACCTAAATACTACATTCTTCGACCCTGCTGGAGGAGGAGACCCAGTCCTATATCAGCACTTATTCTGATTTTTTGGCCACCCAGAAGTTTACATCCTGATCCTCCCAGGTTTTGGAATCATTTCACATGTGGTAGCATACTATGCCGGCAAAAAA---GAACCATTCGGATACATAGGGATGGTATGGGCCATACTATCCATCGGATTTTTAGGCTTCATTGTATGAGCCCACCACATATTCACAGTAGGAATGGACGTAGACACCCGAGCATACTTCACATCTGCCACCATAATTATCGCCATTCCAACTGGCATCAAAGTTTTCAGCTGATTG---GCTACACTCCACGGAGGC---ACTATTAAATGAGACCCTCCAATCCTGTGGGCCTTGGGCTTTATCTTCTTATTCACTATCGGAGGACTTACAGGCATCGTACTAGCAAACTCCTCCCTAGATATCGCCCTACACGACACATACTACGTAGTAGCTCATTTCCACTACGTC---CTATCCATAGGAGCCGTTTTTGCCATTCTAGCTGGATTCACTCACTGATTCCCCCTATTCACAGGATACACCCTACACCCCACATGAGCTAAGGCCCATTTCGGAGTCATATTCACAGGAGTTAACCTAACCTTCTTCCCACAACACTTCCTGGGCCTAGCTGGCATGCCACGA---CGATACTCAGATTACCCAGACGCCTACACC---CTATGAAACACCATGTCATCTATCGGCTCACTCATCTCAATAACAGCTGTTATTATATTAATGTTCATCATCTGAGAAGCCTTCGCATCAAAACGTAAAGTC---CTGCAGCCAGAGCTAACCACTACCAAC
-- end --

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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N4B,N4N : N4B: Apparently Secure - Breeding, N4N: Apparently Secure - Nonbreeding

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure

Reasons: Large range, extending from North America to South America; most U.S. populations have been stable or increasing in recent years; population status in much of Central and South America is not well known, but the species may be moderately to highly threatened throughout much of the range, mainly as a result of environmental pollution and disturbance by humans; subject to unexplained population fluctuations even where doing well overall.

Other Considerations: Listed Endangered by USFWS in entire range except for Atlantic coast of U.S., Florida and Alabama, where it was de-listed 2/4/85.

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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In the sixties and seventies, brown pelican populations decreased dramatically due to the consumption of fish that contained DDT and other hard pesticides. DDT causes the egg shells to be thinned to the point that the young can not survive. Populations recovered somewhat after DDT became unavailable; the range of this species has been slightly reduced.

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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On a global scale, brown pelicans are doing just fine. The IUCN lists their status as being that of Least Concern, which means the world is in no danger of losing brown pelicans anytime soon. It is the particular populations that live in the Gulf of Mexico whose habitat has been affected as a result of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon deep sea oil rig and the resulting oil spill (Allen-Mills, 2010).

This isn't the first time brown pelicans are getting worldwide sympathy. In the 19th century pelicans were hunted for their plumage, and few habitats were safe from hunters. In 1903 U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt formed the country's first wildlife refuge for birds. It was only a five-acre patch of land on Pelican Island in Florida, but it was the first step toward what is now the National Wildlife Refuge System, which today covers more than 95 million acres total (Benzel, 2010).

While protected areas can keep hunters out, they cannot block the entry of pesticides and other environmental contaminants. The widespread use of DDT was especially harmful the vulnerable shells of brown pelican eggs and highly detrimental to the brown pelican populations in North America. It was only after the U.S. banned the use of DDT in 1972 that their numbers began to pick up (Ehrlich, 1988).

It may only be a certain subspecies of the brown pelican that has been affected, but the situation still concerns scientists. Ornithologists say they are not sure whether Louisiana's brown pelicans will survive this latest environmental disaster (Drash, 2010).

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Global Short Term Trend: Increase of 10-25% to decline of 30%

Comments: Within the U.S., the eastern population (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina) appears to be stable and even increasing. Recent increase in North Carolina is attributed to expansion of South Carolina population, aided by creation of dredge spoil islands that provide additional nesting habitat. Gulf Coast populations are increasing steadily, but those in the U.S. Caribbean have declined over the last 10 years (J. Collazo, pers. obs.). Contaminant levels for both populations, however, are below the threshold found to induce reproductive failure [e.g., 4-5 parts per million (ppm) for DDE]. Colonies on the San Lorenzo Islands in the Gulf of California contained about 32,000 birds in 1970 but had decreased to approximately 8,200 in 1977. However, southern populations of subspecies CALIFORNICUS, occurring in Mexico, evidently are stable (D. W. Anderson, pers. comm.). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1990) categorized the status of CALIFORNICUS as "stable." Data are needed on Central and South American populations where organochlorine pesticide use is still allowed. Aside from large, reproductively viable populations in Panama and Mexico, population status in Central and South America is poorly known (Crivelli and Anderson 1984, Risebrough and Schreiber 1972, Halewyn and Norton 1984, Guzman and Schreiber 1987).

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Population

Population
(Wetlands International 2006)

Population Trend
Increasing
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Threats

Degree of Threat: Medium

Comments: This species was nearly extirpated from North America between the late 1950s and early 1970s when pesticides entering the marine food web caused major population declines. The pesticide endrin killed pelicans directly, whereas DDT reduced reproductive success by causing pelicans to lay thin-shelled eggs that broke during incubation.

Populations are extremely vulnerable to chemical/pesticide pollution, which can result in eggshell thinning (reproductive failure) (Anderson and Hickey 1970, Blus et al. 1974), and presumably lethal poisoning. Populations (especially in California, Texas, and Louisiana) were decimated in the U.S. by pesticides (DDT and related compounds) in the 1950s and 60s. In the U.S. Caribbean, 7% of the pelican population in 1982 died as a result of fish die-offs in connection to chemical runoffs (e.g., organophosphates). Other threats include disturbance of nesting birds by humans (reduces reproductive success), declining fish (food) populations, increased turbidity (e.g., from dredging, resulting in reduced visibility of prey); oil and other chemical spills, entanglement in fishing gear, shooting, extreme weather conditions (freezing of soft parts, destruction of nest sites by hurricanes, storms), disease, and parasitism.

Human disturbance (e.g., recreational boating, poaching) not only disrupts reproductive success (Anderson and Keith 1980; Schreiber 1979), but may affect distribution patterns and age structure of pelicans using roosting sites during the nonbreeding season (Jaques and Anderson 1987). Habitat degradation affects both roosting and nesting patterns. On the Gulf Coast, nesting efforts have failed because nesting sites are susceptible to flooding as a result of continued site erosion (McNease et al. 1992).

Subspecies CALIFORNICUS: Declined greatly due to effects of pesticide contamination in the 1950s and 1960s. In Southern California threatened by pollution (primarily pesticides in food fishes, also oil), human disturbance of breeding colonies, loss or serious decline of food fishes due to human over-fishing (e.g., of anchovies); loss of post-breeding roost sites, fishing gear entanglement, and bacterial infection resulting from overcrowding at fish disposal areas in harbors (California Department of Fish and Game 1990). Human disturbance has decreased nesting success on Islas los Coronados, Mexico (Anderson 1988) and virtually extirpated the breeding colony (California Department of Fish and Game 1990). Southern populations in Mexico have faced problems associated with human disturbance and overexploitation of prey (e.g., sardines), yet they remain stable (D. W. Anderson, pers. comm.).

U.S. Caribbean: contaminant levels and availability of nesting habitat are not limiting or affecting the population at present. See Williams et al. (1992) for an account of die-offs that have been observed in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands; apparent causes include pesticides, botulism, and unknown factors. In the tropics and subtropics, coastal development and incidental take (e.g., artisanal fishing) is a problem and represents a major threat to the continued availability of mangrove habitat. Close to 91% of all roosting and nesting habitat utilized in the U.S. Caribbean are fringe and overwash mangroves. Fringe mangroves are particularly important to the feeding ecology of pelicans because they provide nutrient inputs and cover for the associated marine community, including food fishes. Both mangrove types are very sensitive to human-created stress such as deforestation, filling and extractions in the salt flats, sedimentation, and oil spills (Cintron and Schaeffer-Novelli 1983). Siltation caused by erosion could be adversely impacting coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests (Cintron and Schaeffer-Novelli 1983, Velazco et al. 1985).

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Management

Restoration Potential: Generally have responded well to restoration efforts. Recovery plans for the U.S. populations have been implemented and selected problematic organochlorines (e.g., DDT) have been banned/regulated. These actions enabled population recovery and led to federal delisting of populations along the Atlantic coast and in Florida and Alabama. Populations along the U.S. west coast have rebounded strongly and have been recommended for downgrading (from endangered to threatened) (D.W. Anderson, pers. comm.). Gulf coast populations are exhibiting increasing trends and successful reintroduction efforts continue (McNease et al. 1992). However, restoration actions implemented so far have not resulted in the recovery of populations in the U.S. Caribbean, where foraging habitat quality may be a problem. In many instances, habitat can be enhanced or created (e.g., spoil islands, jetties). These habitats provide important habitat for both roosting and nesting populations (Jaques and Anderson 1987, Parnell and Shields 1990).

Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: Elements for preserve selection and design include vegetation characteristics, size of island, distance to mainland, distance to nearest human disturbance, availability of sand bars, use patterns in the vicinity of the site in question, and historical use of the site (Collazo and Klaas 1986, Hingtgen and Mulholland 1983, Schreiber 1979, Schreiber and Schreiber 1982). Schreiber and Schreiber (1982) stressed the need to protect not only nesting sites but also loafing and roosting sites because these sites could eventually become nesting sites. They also suggested that sand bars are important to juveniles lacking sufficient skills to land on trees. Traditional sites deserve special protection because they tend to be re-used for many years.

In the tropics and subtropics, mangroves constitute an important nesting and roosting substrate. In the U.S. Caribbean, structural suitability of mangrove sites can be assessed by using a linear classification rule (discriminant function analysis) based on structural variables of roosting and nesting sites (Collazo and Klaas 1985).

Human disturbance is a critical factor in the suitability of roosting and nesting habitat (Schreiber 1979, Schreiber and Schreiber 1982). Precise figures of undesirable levels of human disturbance are difficult to assess a priori. Available information suggests that human disturbance should not be allowed within 100 to 600 meters of roosting or nesting site (Jaques and Anderson 1987, Anderson 1988, Collazo and Klaas 1986, Schreiber 1979). Variability in threshold distances is attributed to the levels of disturbance to which pelicans previously have been exposed. In some cases (e.g., U.S. Caribbean, California), high levels of human disturbance is tolerated because there is vertical separation between birds (e.g., roosting/nesting on a cliff) and the source of disturbance. In those cases, efforts should be made to avoid providing access to humans (e.g., recreational) (Jaques and Anderson 1987).

Management Requirements: The recovery plans for each population (i.e., California, Eastern, Caribbean) outline recovery and conservation actions required to delist the species. See also California Department of Fish and Game (1990) for information on management actions and needs for the Southern California Bight population.

Environmental contaminants are not considered limiting factors for any population at present. Recovery and management efforts for those populations still designated as endangered are more focused on habitat degradation, human disturbance, and maintaining consistent monitoring efforts (e.g., numbers, productivity). Human disturbance (e.g., recreational boating, poaching) disrupts pelican reproductive output. Disturbance is not only detrimental to nesting efforts, but it may affect distribution patterns and age structure of pelicans using roosting sites during the nonreproductive season (Jaques and Anderson 1987).

Management Research Needs: Management/research needs are outlined in the recovery plans. Needs for California and Gulf populations are focused on monitoring efforts. For the California population, there is a need to revise the operational definition for a recovered population such that it is based on cumulative information (D.W. Anderson, pers. comm.).

In the U.S. Caribbean, recovery efforts should be directed to monitoring breeding productivity and evaluating foraging habitat quality. It is necessary to partition the potential effects of foraging habitat degradation from oceanic influences. The following specific research needs have been identified as a result of the ongoing status review of the species sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

1) Productivity: There is a need to obtain accurate estimates of breeding productivity (i.e., chicks per breeding pair). These estimates, as in the early 1980s, should be obtained from as many colonies as possible.

2) Food availability: This is perhaps the underlying factor affecting pelicans in the U.S. Caribbean at present. While difficult to tackle, there is a need to gain insights on the quality and quantity of resources by focusing on the following: a) monitor prey levels at selected sites--there are baseline data from these sites for comparative purposes; b) monitor prey species composition and size frequency brought to young by adults at selected colonies--this would be considered an index of present conditions vs. early 1980s (there are baseline data on these metrics); ancillary data could consist of monitoring where pelicans are going to get their prey and develop an index to evaluate prey availability at feeding sites; c) monitor "bait" fish landings in Puerto Rico--this is a broad category including anchovies and sardines; both groups, however, are consumed by pelicans; data should be useful to test for trends (after applying correction factors) and as an index of general food availability; data could be broken down by point of origin (e.g., fishermen village).

3) Habitat degradation: Research available literature on causes and effects of siltation on tropical coastal ecosystems, and identify any ongoing work documenting and/or monitoring such effects.

4) Movements: There is a possibility that dispersal patterns of U.S. Virgin Islands birds may have changed. In the 1980s, 47% of the juveniles banded in the U.S. Virgin Islands were recorded in Puerto Rico. A decrease in the proportion of birds moving to Puerto Rico coupled with lower productivity in the U.S. Virgin Islands could help explain the low numbers recorded during recent surveys (i.e., 1993-95).

Biological Research Needs: Continued research needed range wide on the effects of poisons and pesticides, disease, and parasitism in the population. Life history study of this long-lived species is needed to determine better habitat requirements, limiting factors, and natural mortality.

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Global Protection: Many to very many (13 to >40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Comments: Many occurrences are protected in wildlife refuges, national parks, National Audubon Society sanctuaries, and state-owned lands within the U.S. Unknown outside U.S.

Needs: Stop forever all forms of pollution and degradation of the marine environment. Protect/preserve breeding colonies and roosting/loafing areas; humans must remain 100 - 600 > 100 meters away; will require education and maybe surveillance. Ensure the availability of undisturbed, non-occupied potential breeding/roosting/loafing sites; pelicans move for known and unknown reasons, and habitat must be available to accommodate all aspects of their needs. Educate fishermen to remove hooks, lines, etc. from birds (and the environment), and stress that pelicans do not pose a threat to their livelihood.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Though an adult pelican requires as much as 4 lbs of fish a day, they have been shown to not compete with commercial or sport fisherman, as they don't eat the same "quality" of fish as humans do.

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Species of Special Concern, Criterion #1 (SSC 1)The brown pelican is listed as a species of special concern based on its vulnerability to habitat modification and human disturbances (e.g. Schreiber & Mock 1988; Klein et al. 1995). These factors may threaten the species in the absence of effective management and conservation strategies (FWCC 2009). Threats & Conservation: Once thriving throughout its range, populations of the brown pelican began to decline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the result of plume hunting and slaughter by fishermen who viewed the birds as competition for valuable catch (USFWS 1995). In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Pelican Island on the Indian River Lagoon as the first national wildlife refuge, reducing the threat of plume hunters in the area. Further protection was established by the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and enhanced when studies revealed that brown pelicans were not detrimental to commercial fish stocks. Unfortunately, pelican populations began to decline again in the mid 20th century from poor reproductive success linked to the widespread use of toxic pesticides like DDT and dieldrin. Studies found that these chemicals were transported by water (irrigation and/or rain) from treated agricultural areas into pelican feeding grounds located in nearby estuaries and coastal waters (Terres 1980; USFWS 1995). Pesticides ingested from contaminated prey items resulted in disruption of calcium metabolism in pelicans, leading to eggshell thinning and subsequent loss of young from egg damage. In 1970, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the brown pelican as an endangered species, which was followed shortly by the banning of DDT and the restriction of similar pesticides by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1972. By 1985, improved breeding success led to population growth that allowed the brown pelican to be removed from the Endangered Species List in Alabama, Florida and along the entire Atlantic coast (USRWS 1995). In November 2009, the bird was delisted as an endangered species across the remainder of its distribution (Federal Register 2009).Recovery efforts are ongoing to increase pelican populations across their natural range. These programs include continued banding and census of existing birds in order to plot migration patterns and gather data on lifespan and growth rates, as well as the patrolling of rookeries and sanctuaries to minimize human disturbance to nesting sites in these designated areas.
  • Farrand Jr., J (Ed.). 1983. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding Volume 1: Loons to Sandpipers. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 447 pp.
  • Kale II, HW & DS Maehr. 1990. Florida's Birds. Pineapple Press. Sarasota, FL. USA. 288 pp.
  • Terres, JK. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. USA. 1109 pp.
  • FWCC. 2009. Florida's endangered species, threatened species, and species of special concern. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/imperiledSpp_index.htm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Carl, RA. 1987. Age-class variation in foraging techniques by brown pelicans. The Condor 89: 525-533.
  • Federal Register. 2009. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Final Rule. Department of the Interior. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal Register Vol.17, No. 20. Online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2009_register&docid=fr17no09-14 (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FNAI. 2001. Field Guide to the Rare Animals of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Online at http://www.fnai.org/fieldguides.cfm (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • FWCC. 2003. Florida's Breeding Bird Atlas: A Collaborative Study of Florida's Birdlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://www.myfwc.com/bba/ (Date accessed 08/07/2010).
  • Harrison, P. 1996. Seabirds of the World: A Photographic Guide. Princeton Univ. Press. Princeton, NJ. USA. 317 pp.
  • Klein, ML, Humphrey, SR & HF Percival. 1995. Effects of ecotourism on distribution of waterbirds in a wildlife refuge. Conserv. Biol. 9: 1454-1465.
  • Grimes, J, Suto, B, Greve. JH & HF Albers. 1989. Effect of selected anthelmintics on three common helminthes in the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). J. Wildlife Diseases 25: 139-142.
  • Kushlan, JA & PC Frohring. 1985. Decreases in the brown pelican population in southern Florida. Colonial Waterbirds 8: 83-95.
  • Mattiucci, S, Paoletti, M, Olivero-Verbel, J, Baldiris, R, Arroyo-Salgado, B, Garbin, L, Navone, G & G Nascetti. 2008. Contracaecum bioccai n. sp. from the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis (L.) in Columbia (Nematoda: Anisakidae): morphology, molecular evidence and its genetic relationship with congeners from fish-eating birds. Syst. Parasitol. 69: 101-121.
  • Peterson, RT. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA. USA. 384 pp.S
  • chreiber, RW. 1980. Nesting chronology of the eastern brown pelican. The Auk 97: 491-508.
  • Schreiber, RW & PJ Mock. 1988. Eastern brown pelicans: What does 60 years of banding tell us? J. Field Ornithol. 59: 171-182.
  • Schreiber, RW & EA Schreiber. 1983. Use of age-classes in monitoring population stability of brown pelicans. J. Wildl. Manage. 47: 105-111.
  • USFWS. Brown Pelican: Endangered Species Success Story. Biologue Series. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Zamparo, D, Overstreet, RM & DR Brooks. 2005. A new species of Petasiger (Digenea: Echonostomiformes: Echinostomatidae) in the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, (Aves: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae), from the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. J. Parasitol. 91: 1465-1467.
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Risks

Stewardship Overview: Management concerns in the United States historically focused on environmental contaminants. Environmental contaminants, particularly DDT and its metabolites, were the most important factors threatening the continued existence of brown pelicans in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the banning of DDT in 1972 and regulation of the use and disposal of other organochlorines, pelicans have rebounded to historical levels or are increasing. In the past, potential conflicts with commercial fishing were an important factor affecting recovery potential (e.g., California populations). At present, however, exploitation of selected fisheries (e.g., anchovies) is not economically viable (D.W. Anderson, pers. comm.). Threats to essential habitats, human disturbance, and the need for continued population monitoring are molding current recovery and management efforts.

Species Impact: As many other colonial birds, pelicans can cause vegetation defoliation or death as excrement builds up over time, assuming the site does not have "flushing or cleansing" attributes (e.g., mangrove islet). Despite the apparent damage of these sites, though, they should be afforded protection because pelicans tend to re-use traditional or old sites (Schreiber and Schreiber 1982).

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Wikipedia

Brown pelican

in flight, Galapagos islands

The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is a small pelican found in the Americas. It is one of the best known and most prominent birds found in the coastal areas of the southern and western United States. It is one of only three pelican species found in the Western Hemisphere. The brown pelican is one of the only two pelican species which feeds by diving into the water.

Description[edit]

The brown pelican 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 (6.1 to 12.1 lb) and has a wingspan from 1.83 to 2.5 m (6.0 to 8.2 ft). Through most of its range, the brown pelican is an unmistakable bird. Like all pelicans, this species has a very large bill, 28 to 34.8 cm (11.0 to 13.7 in) long in this case, with a gular pouch on the bottom for draining water when it scoops out prey.[2] The head is white but often gets a yellowish wash in adult birds. The bill is grayish overall in most birds, though breeding birds become reddish on the underside of the throat. The back, rump, and tail are streaked with gray and dark brown, sometimes with a rusty hue. In adult pelicans, the breast and belly are a blackish-brown and the legs and feet are black. The juvenile is similar but has a brownish-gray neck and white underparts.

This bird is readily distinguished from the American white pelican by its non-white plumage, smaller size and its habit of diving for fish from the air, as opposed to co-operative fishing from the surface. The Peruvian pelican, previously considered a subspecies of brown pelican, is now considered to be a separate species. It has very similar plumage to the brown, but it is noticeably larger. The brown and Peruvian pelicans may overlap in some areas along the Pacific coast of South America.

Range and habitats[edit]

The brown pelican lives on both coasts in the Americas. On the Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast they distribute from Nova Scotia to Venezuela, and to the mouth of the Amazon River. Along the Atlantic, they are usually less common north of the Carolinas, with a considerable population in much of the Gulf of Mexico. On the Pacific Ocean they are found from British Columbia to south central Chile, and including the Galapagos Islands.[3] In the Pacific, they are fairly common along the coast of California, Mexico and Central America. 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. They are also common in Mangrove swamps.

Behavior[edit]

Pelicans are very gregarious birds; they live in flocks of both sexes throughout the year. They are exceptionally buoyant due to the internal air sacks beneath their skin and in their bones, and as graceful in the air as they are clumsy on land. In level flight, pelicans fly in groups, with their heads held back on their shoulders, the bills resting on their folded necks. They may fly in a "V", but usually in regular lines or single file, often low over the water's surface.

When foraging, they dive bill-first like a kingfisher[4] often submerging completely below the surface momentarily as they snap up prey. Upon surfacing they spill the water from the throat pouch before swallowing their catch. Only the Peruvian pelican shares this active foraging style, while other pelicans forage more inactively by scooping up corralled fish while swimming on the surface of the water. Juvenile brown pelicans have been observed foraging in the surface-swimming matter of other pelicans. They are occasional targets of Kleptoparasitism by other fish-eating birds such as gulls, skuas and frigatebirds.[5]

Showing throat pouch

Although the brown pelican eats mostly fish, an occasional amphibian or crustacean may supplement the diet. Menhaden may locally account for 90–95% of their food. The anchovy supply is particularly important to the nesting success of the brown pelican.[6] However, their preferred prey are usually not commercially fished species.[5] Other fish preyed on with some regularity can include pigfish, pinfish, herring, sheepshead, silversides, mullet, and minnows, and they sometimes eat crustaceans, usually prawns. A single adult pelican can eat up to 1.8 kg (4.0 lb) each day.[7] Today, in many coastal areas, brown pelicans will loaf around fishing ports and piers in hopes of being fed or stealing scraps of fish, especially if conditioned to do.[5]

Breeding[edit]

These birds nest in colonies, often on islands and/or in mangroves. Male pelicans pick out the nesting sites and perform an "advertising" display which attracts the females. Once a pair forms a bond, overt communication between them is minimal. Pelican nesting peaks during March and April; nests are in colonies either in trees, bushes, or on the ground (the latter usually on islands that terrestrial predators cannot access). Those placed in trees are rather flimsy and made of reeds, grasses, straw, and sticks; if on the ground, nests consist of a shallow scrape lined with feathers and a rim of soil built 10–26 cm (3.9–10.2 in) above the ground. Their young are hatched in broods of about 2–3 and are naked and helpless upon hatching. Incubation is roughly 28–30 days. Both parents actively care for the young. Young pelicans start to walk independently at about 35 days old in ground nest, but do not leave treetop nests for up to 68–88 days. In the 8–10 month period they are cared for, the nestling pelicans are fed by regurgitation around 70 kg (150 lb) of fish. The younger birds reach sexual maturity (and full adult plumage) at anywhere from two to five years of age. Predation is occasional at colonies and predators of eggs, young and the rare adult pelicans can include gulls, raptors (especially bald eagles), foxes, skunks and feral cats.[8] In areas where their ranges' overlap, American alligators may sometimes pick off fledging pelicans. Predation is likely reduced if the colony is on an island. Like all pelicans, brown pelicans are highly sensitive to disturbances by humans (often tourists or fishermen) at their nest and may abandon their nest if stressed as such.[5] Due to their size, the non-nesting adults are rarely predated.[9]

State bird[edit]

The brown pelican is the state bird of Louisiana.

Threats and conservation[edit]

In flight
Juvenile
Diving into the sea to catch fish in Jamaica

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, followed by the rest of the US. Along with the American white pelican, the brown pelican is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List has listed the brown pelican as Least Concern since 1988.[1] The US government imposed a ban on the use of DDT in 1972. Since then, the population of brown pelican has increased. Current estimates place the population at 650,000 individuals.[10]

Depictions in culture[edit]

The brown pelican is now a staple of crowded coastal regions and is tolerated to varying degrees by fishermen and boatmen. It is the national bird of Barbados and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and state bird of Louisiana. It is also one of the mascots of Tulane University and is on the seals of Tulane University, Louisiana State University and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. It is also on the Crest of the University of the West Indies. A brown pelican (voiced by Geoffrey Rush in an Australian accent) was illustrated as a friendly, virtuous talking character named Nigel in the animated children's film Finding Nemo, set in the Pacific Ocean near Australia, although only the white Australian pelican is known to occur in that country.

In 1902, the pelican was made a part of the official Louisiana seal and, 10 years later, in 1912, the pelican and her young adorned the Flag of Louisiana as well. The pelican is also one of Louisiana's nicknames is "The Pelican State." In 1958, the pelican was made the official state bird of Louisiana. This act was amended on July 26, 1966 to specifically designate the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis.

The National Basketball Association's New Orleans Pelicans are named in honor of Louisiana's state bird.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2012). "Pelecanus occidentalis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ del Hoyo, J; Elliot, A; Sargatal, J (1996). Handbook of the Birds of the World 3. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-20-2. 
  3. ^ Brown Pelican – Pelecanus occidentalis (Report). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2009-11. http://www.fws.gov/contaminants/pdf/brown_pelicanfactsheet09.pdf. Retrieved 2011-09-20.
  4. ^ Dan A. Tallman, David L. Swanson, Jeffrey S. Palmer (2002). Birds of South Dakota (Hardcover ed.). Aberdeen, South dakota: Midstates/Quality Quick Print. p. 11. ISBN 0-929918-06-1. 
  5. ^ a b c d Brown Pelican. Smithsonian's Nationall Zoological Park
  6. ^ Anderson, Mais & Kelly (1980) "Brown Pelicans as anchovy stock indicators and their relationships to commercial fishing" CalCOFI Reports XXI p. 55 "Pelican [i.e. the brown pelican] reproductive rate (fledging success = F‘) depends largely on levels of anchovy abundance and availability. The diet of breeding pelicans from 1972 to 1979 was 92% anchovies (N = 2195; Gress et al. in preparation). At Anacapa Island, breeding pelicans feed mostly in the Santa Barbara Channel later in the breeding season, but their feeding areas are variable due to mobility of their prey, anchovies (Gress et al. in preparation). Less is known of pelicans nesting at Coronado Norte, but a similar situation involving feeding areas is likely."
  7. ^ ADW: Pelecanus occidentalis: INFORMATION. Animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. Retrieved on 2014-04-01.
  8. ^ Brown Pelican. The Animal Files. Retrieved on 2014-04-01.
  9. ^ Brown Pelican. Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce (2010-09-28).
  10. ^ Cappiello, Dina (November 12, 2009). "Brown pelicans off endangered species list". Associated Press. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Formerly included P. thagus Molina, 1782 [Peruvian Pelican], now considered distinct (e.g. Sibley and Monroe 1990, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001) on the basis of much larger size, differences in color of plumage and soft parts (Wetmore 1945), and absence of interbreeding (Banks et al., 2008).

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