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Dolphin Tales: The brown pelican

By Capt. Cathy Eagle - | Jul 14, 2021

Capt. Cathy Eagle. PHOTO PROVIDED

“What a wonderful bird is the pelican. Its beak can hold more than its belly can.” — Hugh Madigan

The brown pelican is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. When not foraging for their own fish, you will see them standing around fishing docks waiting for a hand-out.

When fishing, they cruise the shoreline and glide on their broad wings, surfing updrafts along wave faces. When they spot their prey, they stall in flight and then drop like a rock with their wings folded back. The pelican’s beak is like a fishnet. When they plunge into the water they stun the small fish and scoop them up.

Upon surfacing, the pouch is tilted forward and drained. They have special air sacks on the front of the body to cushion them from constant pounding against the water.

The adult brown pelican’s wingspan averages 7 feet and they weigh 8-10 pounds. They can live up to 30 years if in captivity.

Like the dolphin, a group of pelicans is called a pod. Adult brown pelicans are gray-brown in color with yellow heads and white necks. During breeding season, the back and sides of the neck turn a rich, dark, reddish-brown. Immature pelicans have a gray-brown head and neck with a pale whitish belly and breast.

During courtship, the male pelican offers nesting material to the female. Pelican nests are built close together in low trees or mangroves. Pelican babies are born without feathers and are fed partially digested fish from the parent’s gullet. As the babies grow larger, they help themselves to food from the parent’s gullet. Four or five times a day the youngsters will demand a feeding.

The brown pelican was first declared endangered in 1970 but now has recovered due to the ban on DDT and efforts by states, conservation organizations and private citizens.

“Beautiful on land, lovely in the air, but birds of the water, of all are most fair.” — Anonymous

Capt. Cathy Eagle has spent over 40 years boating in our local waters. As a professional charter captain she specializes in dolphin and nature tours. Visit CaptainCathy.com or call 239-994-2572.