Beleaguered Brown Pelicans

Besides the dolphins that have popped up beside the cruising Boudreaux several times a day to see what we’re up to (see last post), we have enjoyed seeing lots of brown pelicans on our journey. They peer at us from pilings and buoys—always, it seems, a little imperiously—sharp brown eyes keeping us in their gaze atop long beaks tucked against their throats. And they are wonderful to watch in flight—gliding with their arched wings outstretched six feet or more. When they spot a fish, they plunge into the water with a big splash. Our authoritative Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior describes how, once their heads enter the water, lower jaw bones flex apart and their big pouches balloon open to capture their prey. They swallow their fish whole, squeezing their pouches closed while forcing water out.

Brown pelicans were put on the federal endangered species list in 1970 after DDT nearly wiped them out in the 1950s and 60s. Then, after a celebrated comeback that resulted in their being de-listed just last year, came the oil spill. The USFWS has determined that brown pelicans have been the bird species most impacted by the spill, making up 58-percent of all dead and injured birds reported. The oil spill hit during their nesting season, and they nest in colonies on barrier islands along the Gulf shore. They depend solely on fish and live their lives entirely in the coastal zone.

Yesterday morning as we stirred in the early morning sunlight at the quiet town dock of tiny White City, FL, on a section of the Intracoastal Waterway that is more river than sea, we were surrounded by pelicans. Here’s a link to a pelican photo gallery:

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6 Responses to Beleaguered Brown Pelicans

  1. Tracy Fredin says:

    One of my favorite poems by Dixon Lanier Merritt. (sometimes inappropriately credited to Ogden Nash)

    The Pelican
    A wonderful bird is the pelican,
    His bill will hold more than his belican. (or belly can)
    He can take in his beak
    Food enough for a week,
    But I’m damned if I see how the helican. (or hell he can)

  2. RangerRick says:

    Great photos and narratives. Will be following your journey with keen interest. RR

  3. Margot Galt says:

    Hello, water travelers. Thanks especially for the pelican gallery. I looked for them on the Charleston, South Carolina coast this December and found fewer than I remember. But the ones you’re photographing look recently fledged with their reddish heads. Is that so, do you think? Heartening to see so many of them, after the Spill and the terrific toll.

    Eager for more. Check out my blog: for entries about December along the Carolina Atlantic Coast, especially those about ibis, which I saw in greater flocks than ever before.

    All best, Margot in Saint Paul

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