by Larry Czajkoski
Again this winter, I was fortunate to visit the gulf coast of Florida for a week where I was able to observe more than 20 different bird species just from the beach area where I walked daily. One of the more interesting birds was the Brown Pelican. Their roosting and feeding habits were a constant source of enjoyment for me throughout the week. I photographed this non-breeding adult (as determined by its white/yellowish head and white hind neck) as it glided just over the surf in search of some tasty morsels. During nesting season, the brown pelican sports a chocolate-brown hind neck; at other times, it is white necked. Yellow adorns adults crown at all seasons while immature pelicans have a grayish brown head.
At 4 feet long and with a 7 foot wingspan, the brown pelican is one of our largest and most distinctive birds. Brown pelicans are back from the brink of distinction after conservation measures were strengthened and a ban on the pesticide DDT, which caused widespread breeding failure among these birds in the 1960’s and 1970’s, was instituted. The United States’ first national wildlife refuge was established in Florida to protect a beleaguered brown pelican colony. In the Carolinas, just head toward the ocean to find the brown pelican. They are seen all along the southeastern coast flapping low over bays or cruising over the surf at the beach.
“Yes, anchovies please!” Anchovies, sardines, and other fish catch brown pelicans’ attention, sending them from horizontal flapping and gliding to angled plunges into the water. As a brown pelican hits the surface and briefly sinks, its bill opens and its pouch fills with up to 2 ½ gallons of water. The bird quickly strains out the water from its bill and swallows any captured fish. Their act of diving and crashing into the water over and over is truly an amazing thing to watch. So next time you visit the beach areas pay attention to the brown pelicans and enjoy their aerial antics.