Saturday, March 14, 2009

Brown Pelican Performance

I watched what I believe was a male brown pelican, showing his bright, breeding colors. He dove right in front of me to scoop up a fish. A sea gull flew over to wait for him to empty the water out of his pouch, thinking it might be able to steal the fish. It was quite a performance. I was surprised when I got home and looked at the photos. I hadn't realized how big their throat pouch gets when it's full of water. That was amazing! The photos also revealed that this particular pelican had a leg band. It would be interesting to know it's history.

The brown pelican is the smallest member of the species. There are four subspecies of brown pelicans, two of which reside in the United States, the eastern brown pelican and the California brown pelican. The brown pelican is the only pelican that is a plunge diver, and can dive from as high as 65 feet in the air to catch marine fish.

Females are identical to males but are slightly smaller. These are the only dark-colored pelicans. Non breeding adults have white or yellowish head and neck and grayish brown bodies. Breeding birds have dark hind neck and a yellow patch on fore neck. Immature pelicans have a white neck rather than a dark red one. Brown Pelicans can reach lengths of three and a half feet. Wing spans can be nearly eight feet long. An adult will weigh from 5 to 8 pounds and eat 3 to 4 pounds of fish per day.

In this area, they breed throughout the year; only in spring in northernmost part of their range. The nest locations vary from a simple scrape on the ground on an island to a large stick nest in mangroves or low trees. Twigs and grasses are brought by the male to the female for her to construct. They nest in colonies, usually on islands. The female lays 2 to 4 eggs, late winter or early spring, that are incubated for four weeks by both the male and the female. Young usually leave the nest in 9–11 weeks and sexually mature at 2 1/2 to 3 years of age. In favorable conditions a pelican can live to be 30 plus years old.

Click photos to enlarge.