Sea Creature Feature of The Week: Brown Pelican

This week’s sea creature feature includes another sea bird. The brown pelican spends the entire year in estuaries and coastal marine regions throughout the east and west coasts of the United States. This seabird eats by diving from heights of up to 65 feet to shock small fish before catching them. Brown pelicans drain the water from their pouches before swallowing their meal, whereas other birds, such as gulls, attempt to extract their prey from their beaks before they can feast. Their pouch stretches to catch the fish and can hold up to three gallons of water.

Brown pelicans do not have a fixed breeding season, but rather breed dependent on their latitude. To impress the ladies, male pelicans will conduct a courting dance. There are several dangers to the eggs and young. Reptiles, alligators, wild dogs and cats, and raccoons are all common predators of eggs and young. Individual pelicans are attacked by sharks and sea lions, which is why they choose to fly in flocks above water. When brown pelicans fly together, they may create a straight line or a “v.”

Previously, pesticide poisoning had driven them to the brink of extinction. Since 1966, population growth has been gradual. According to All About Birds, the pesticide endrin killed pelicans outright, while DDT contamination led to thin-shelled eggs that broke under the parents’ weight. The species was formally recognized as endangered in 1970, and two years later, a ban on DDT and a restriction on endrin usage went into effect.

The IUCN Red List assessed the Brown Pelican or Pelecanus occidentalis in 2018 and listed the species as least concern. Although the population of this species of pelican is rising, threats such as fishing and extracting aquatic resources, agricultural and forestry effluents, and recreational activities can have an influence on the population.