Pelicans Are Fun

by MBC

A pelican walks into a bar. The bartender asks him “Why the long face?” Come visit this page and get the details about this waterbird.

This article will discuss the lives of two species of Pelican which include the American White Pelican (Pelecanus arythrorhynchos) which we have where I live in Colorado and the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) which is not in Colorado but is in California. The American White Pelican is much larger (L 62” and Wing Span 108”) than the Brown (48” L by 84” WS). They both fish for a living, but they do it differently, see below. American White Pelicans are one of more than 900 birds species that would be under threat if the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is amended.

Pelicans have very short tails compared to other birds. They are also rather awkward on land when waddling around. These birds are approximately 30 million years old. The life span of a Pelican is quite long. The oldest known wild Pelican lived to be 42 years old.

The Pelican was dubbed grand gosier by by Cajun fishermen in Luisiana.  The translation is BIG GULLET.

White Pelican on a Rock
White Pelican on a Rock
Personal photo

The White and the Brown Fish Differently

White Pelicans will fish cooperatively often surrounding fish and herding them to the center of the circle before catching them. 

While the Brown Pelicans fish individually and will fly over the water and then dive spectacularly into the water to catch the fish.  By the way even though their throat will hold up to 3 gallons of water, and they have room in there for large fish, they DO NOT eat large fish.  Their diet is usually anchovies, menhaden, sheepshead, pigfish, herring, mullet, minnows and sardines. They eat on average about 4 pounds of fish daily.  Sometimes a Pelican will catch a fish that a fisherman has just caught and the hook and fishing line will present a major crisis.  This is often how they end up in a Rehabilitation center getting surgery, if they are lucky.

Pelicans Diving for Fish

Remember only the Brown Pelicans fish this way NOT the White ones

Pelican Breeding and Romance

During breeding season the Brown Pelican will display a red pouch.  The California Brown breeds in the Channel Islands.  Talk about Mexico and DDT

The White Pelican has brown eyes except during breeding when their eyes turn white.  Pelicans are mostly silent except during breeding when they do make some noises mostly sounding like breathing. When they get hot they will flap their lower pouch to cool down.

Both the White and the Brown will swing their head around 360 degrees saying “I like you”. Since they don't sing or call for a mate, the male will use body gestures suck as bowing, stretching and displaying their pouch to impress the females. Also both breeds will develop a top knot or protrusion on their upper beaks which goes away during non-breeding season.

Young pelicans are completely blind and have no feathers.  They are completely dependent on their parents.

Over the Years Many Pelicans Have Fallen Victim to Oil Spills

The Oil Coats Their Feathers Preventing their Natural Waterproofing and the Animals Die

Pelican Reproduction

There was a reproductive crisis in the late 1960s and in 1970 Pelicans were declared endangered due to DDT contamination which made their shells very thin and most of the offspring didn’t survive. Both the male and the female will sit on the nest once the eggs are laid. Then after DDT was banned by 2009 their reproductive slump was over and they were moved off the endangered species list. But more recently global warming has become quite a threat. Even in good times only half of pelican chicks will live for one year or more.

A Must See DVD on Pelicans

Judy Irving, who also filmed Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, made this documentary on Pelicans. A great educational video.
Pelican Dreams DVD
Pelican Dreams DVD

On Occasion A Pelican Will Eat a Pigeon

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Colorado River Cormorants and White Pelicans Photo Taken by Me

Colorado River Cormorants and White Pelicans
Colorado River Cormorants and White Pelicans

Does Your Mom Sew? Give Her Some Pelican Cloth

Help Her to Unleash Her Creativity this Mother's Day
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Updated: 06/05/2019, MBC
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Your Comments Are Welcomed. Have You Seen Both Species of Pelican?

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mihgasper on 01/17/2017

No pelicans here, but lots of herons, swans, ducks, a few cormorants and an occasional seagull (we are more than one hundred from the sea after all). It would be nice to add several pelicans to the flock - just for diversity. I wasn't aware of the brown pelican, only for white one.

blackspanielgallery on 07/06/2016

We actually have both here, but far more brown pelicans than white ones. There is one pond where the white ones returned every year, but a few years ago they stopped coming. I believe fishermen took over the pond with crab traps. On the last visit there were about a hundred young pelicans, and a few adults would guard them while the rest of the flock went off to eat. Perhaps there are now too many for the pond, or perhaps there was a problem with the alligators in the area.

MBC on 07/06/2016

Yep, it's a new product.

Mira on 07/06/2016

Nice page! And I didn't know Zazzle made custom luggage, too! Wow!

jptanabe on 06/28/2016

Beautiful! No pelicans where I live, unfortunately.

MBC on 06/27/2016

These birds are fascinating! You are land locked like me (though we do have lakes where the white ones fish). You should go to the Pacific Ocean or maybe just to the Salton Sea - I saw lots of the white ones in flocks there.

candy47 on 06/27/2016

I've never seen either species of pelican. Loved the video!

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