Posts Tagged: Brown Pelican

Atlantic Coast Adult Brown Pelican in Breeding Colors

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Brown Pelican in full breeding colors, in flight low over water (sandra calderbank)

The Atlantic Coast Adult Brown Pelican is a stunning and massive seabird in its breeding colors. They differ from the California Brown Pelican in breeding colors by the color of the skin on their pouch. During breeding season, the throat pouch of the Atlantic Pelican turns brown while the Pacific Pelican’s turns red. The pouch stretches and is meant for catching fish. Aside from the throat pouch color, these Pelicans are the same in behavior and size. These massive water birds frequently glide just above the water. Their feeding method involves diving headfirst into a school of fish. To soften the effect of high headfirst dives, they have air sacs beneath their skin. It’s quite a dramatic sight to watch the headfirst dive from a height of 60 to 100 feet. The pouch they possess can hold fish and up to 3 gallons of water. Before swallowing the fish, the pelican makes sure to empty the water from its pouch. Pelicans are suprisingly graceful and are very social, congretating in flocks. Brown Pelicans have a lifespan of up to 30 years.


Tight Formation Flight

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Three non breeding Adult Brown Pelicans in flight in tight formation against blue sky (sandra calderbank)

As I walked along the Sebastian River, hoping to capture some birds on camera, I spotted something in the distance flying towards me. Initially, I thought I saw one gigantic bird. As it approached, I realized there were three Brown Pelicans in a tight formation flight.

I have seen massive flocks of Pelicans fly in V formation before. They fly in V-formation because they conserve energy. The upstroke of one bird’s wing creates an updraft and the following bird saves a significant amount of energy. The trailing pelican’s heart beats slower than the lead bird because the trailing pelican flaps less than the leader.

These three Pelicans just seemed to fly along in tight formation flight like an acrobatic display. The lead Pelican soared to the right of the other two. I like to think they were putting on a show for me.


Brown Pelicans

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The Brown Pelican is an interesting seabird. They dive headfirst from high above the ocean into the water for fish. They use the force of the impact of their plunge dive to stun the fish and then scoop them into their pouch. This maneuver can cause as much as 2 to 2.5 gallons of water in the pelican’s throat pouch, which they need to drain. Frequently as they are draining the water from their pouch, gulls fly over and steal the fish right out of its pouch. The Brown Pelican lives year-round in some areas of Florida. I photographed this one flying low over the water with its wingtip almost dipping into the water surface as it glided by.    

Brown Pelican

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I was watching the waters around Merritt Island, Florida and this Brown Pelican landed just to my left in a marshy area. This adult is in breeding plumage with bright blue eyes, pink bill, reddish brown neck and yellow head. These birds are big and stocky with a 79 inch wingspan and seem clumsy on land. This one looks quite graceful as it is landing, almost as if it is conducting an orchestra.