The brown pelican, the state bird of Louisiana, is a distinctive bird that lives along sea shores. They live along the Pacific, Gulf and Atlantic coasts. If you have been to the beach, you may have seen a brown pelican performing an airborne dive into the ocean in search of food; it’s the only pelican that does this maneuver.
Brown Pelican Information
With a wing span that can reach over seven feet, this bird is generally 4 to 4.5 feet tall. The bill is usually at least as long as its head. This pelican has short legs with webbed feet and a short tail. While these birds are awkward when on their feet, they literally soar over water.
One of the amazing characteristics of the brown pelican is its pouch, which extends down from its bill. This pouch acts in two different manners. First, the pouch helps them to catch fish. After diving down for a scoop of food, the bird allows to the seawater to drain from its mouth and then swallows the catch of the day, hopefully menhaden, the brown pelican’s favorite type of fish. In addition, the pouch helps keep them cool during hot weather.
Males and females live together in flocks. You will usually see them flying in single file, although the birds will sometimes fly in a “V” formation.
Both male and female brown pelicans participate in incubating the two to three eggs that are laid during the spring. However, instead of sitting on the eggs, they warm their eggs by covering them with their webbed feet.
Brown pelicans have been threatened by human beings and our activities since the early 1900s. During this period of time, the birds were hunted for their feathers. In addition, they were destroyed because commercial fishers incorrectly thought that the birds threatened their livelihoods.
However, hunting these birds was not the only push towards the pelicans’ extinction. They almost became extinct between the 1950s and 1970s. During this period of time, DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, and endrin were widely used as pesticides, both with disastrous results on these birds. DDT made the brown pelicans’ egg shells extremely thin. This led to bird parents literally crushing their eggs during incubation periods. In addition, endrin poisoned the birds.
Brown pelicans were added to the Endangered Species List in 1970.
Fortunately, these birds have made a comeback. However, while they have been removed from the U. S. Endangered Species List in states such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, they are still being negatively impacted by oil spills and loss of habitat.