Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Brown Pelican

We've always loved watching the Brown Pelican (Pelicanus occidentalis). They're incredibly graceful in the air, and while they don't have the sleek delicate beauty of the Great Blue Heron or the Great White Egret, we think they are stunning birds in their own right. Click on the photos below to get a good look at these beauties!

We just learned that the Brown Pelican is unique among the world's seven species of pelicans because it is found along the ocean shores and not on inland lakes. It is the only dark pelican, and also the only one that plunges from the air into the water to catch its food. We have watched Brown Pelicans do this and have to admit that their execution of plunges leans a bit toward clunky and clumsy when they hit the water, but their dive down is as streamlined as the kingfisher's.

Here are some cool facts from the Cornell bird website:

• While the Brown Pelican is draining the water from its bill after a dive, gulls often try to steal the fish right out of its pouch. They sometimes even perch on the pelican's head or back and reach in. The pelican itself, however, is not above stealing fish from other seabirds. It also follows fishing boats and hangs around piers for handouts.

• The Brown Pelican frequently lowers its head onto its shoulders with the bill open, pulls its head back, and stretches the pouch over its throat and neck. The exposed neck looks like a large lump sticking up out of the pouch.

• Unlike most birds, which warm their eggs with the skin of their breasts, pelicans incubate their eggs with their feet. They hold the eggs under the webs that stretch from the front toes to the hind toe, essentially standing on the eggs to warm them. This peculiar incubation method made them vulnerable to the effects of the pesticide DDT. The DDT made the eggshells thin, and the incubating parents frequently cracked their eggs.

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