Why do some Brown Pelicans have orange or reddish parts on their bills?

Why do some Brown Pelicans have orange or reddish parts on their bills?

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I am doing research on Brown Pelicans and have photos/descriptions of the breeding and nonbreeding appearances of adults, esp. the California and eastern subspecies here on our southern Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and southern Atlantic coasts.

One question is really puzzling me:

The birds are described as having long pale bills, some with some brown on them. The bill of the California subspecies is described as acquiring some orange or red during the breeding season (along with the gular pouch which turns bright red/orange/pink). But I see photos of nonbreeding birds (with completely white necks) with either a little or quite a bit of orange on their bills, usually on the lower half.

There are so many pictures like this that the orange cannot be just a breeding color.

Do some Brown Pelicans just have some or quite a bit of orange on their bills, even when they are not breeding? I have looked at just about every link that comes up under Brown Pelicans and no one explains the presence of orange in some of their bills (except during the California subspecies' breeding season). In the official descriptions of the appearances of nonbreeding adults, orange in the bill is never mentioned. I would like to know the answer to this detail in the appearance of some of them!

After doing some reading at the Birds of North America webpage on Brown Pelicans.

It does mention orange on the bill outside of the breeding season. Brown Pelicans have a greenish gray bill once they are older than 24 days which becomes gray-brown in their first year. At around 12 to 14 months of age, yellow will begin to appear at tip and on the sides. At 16 to 19 months of age, the bill becomes gray-green-yellow with some orange, the orange becomes more distinct at 29 to 37 months.

It is difficult to define the plumage of a Brown Pelican during their first 2 to 3 years; they acquire definitive plumage between the ages of 3 to 5 years old.

Here are the descriptions of their bill in Definitive Basic and Alternate plumages:

In Definitive Basic plumage, proximal end of upper mandible pinkish orange, distal end buff yellow over pinkish orange, and nail at tip buff yellow. Lower mandible pinkish orange, except middle section gray or mottled gray. Proximal end of gular pouch reddish orange (P. o. californicus) or green-gray (P. o. carolinensis); distal end dark gray-green. As breeding season approaches, colors intensify; bill becomes brightest 4-6 weeks before pouch.

In Definitive Alternate plumage, upper mandible bluish pearl-gray and pinkish on proximal end, buff-yellow-orange-red over bluish pearl-gray on distal end, and bright buff-yellow on nail. Lower mandible pale yellow on proximal third, bluish pearl-gray elsewhere; yellow at maximum intensity when young being fed; may serve as target for begging nestlings.

Colors fade with onset of incubation through prebasic molt; upper mandible gray proximally, buff-yellow and orange over pearl-gray distally, and buff-yellow on nail; distal two-thirds of lower mandible gray; proximal end of gular pouch faded yellow-gray (P. o. californicus) or gray-green (P. o. carolinensis); distal end dark green.

It appears their bill does retain the orange after breeding although it may begin to fade and it does mention how the colour intensifies during breeding.


Shields, Mark.(2014).Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America:

It reminds me of the red spot on the seagulls bills of the classic study by Niko Tinbergen.

In the mid-20th Century, Dutch scientist Niko Tinbergen studied nesting Herring Gulls. He noticed that newly hatched gull chicks were fed by their parents only after they pecked at the adults' bills. Tinbergen devised experiments that varied the shape and coloration of the adult's bill. It became clear that the red spot on the adult gull's bill was a crucial visual cue in a chick's demands to be fed, and thus its survival.

It may be that the same mechanism is used by the brown pelican to elicit a stimulation from the chick.

Animal Diversity Web

Brown pelicans are found in warm, shallow waters throughout the nearctic and neotropical regions of both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Although considered strictly coastal, there are some records of brown pelicans living inland during the post-breeding season. Lake Okeechobee, FL and Salton Sea, CA are two locations where these birds have been documented off the coast. They breed in 10 coastal states in the U.S.: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and California. In Mexico, brown pelicans are found on offshore islands, and coastal areas along the Caribbean and along the Gulf of Mexico. They have been found on the Pacific coasts in Honduras, Costa Rica, Belize, and Panama. South American sites include the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Venezuela, Aruba, and the Galapagos Island. The only colony on the Pacific coast in South America is in Ecuador. In the West Indies, sites have been documented in Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Barbuda, and Antigua. (Sheilds, 2002)


Pelicans are strictly coastal, rarely living more than 20 miles or 32 km from the shoreline. They are found in warm coastal waters or marine estuaries during the non-breeding season. They require dry areas that are not subjected to frequent disturbance. They roost offshore at night and loaf during the day after or while foraging. Typical loaf and roost sites include sandbars, pilings, jetties, breakwaters, mangrove islets, and offshore rocks or islands. To breed, they move to small, predator-free islands. On the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, brown pelicans are found breeding on barrier islands, natural estuarine islands, or dredge-spoil islands. Along the Pacific Coast and the northern Gulf of California they breed on dry, rocky islands. In mainland Mexico, they are found in mangroves. In the tropics, they inhabit coastal and inland mangroves and humid forests. (Sheilds, 2002 Tangley, 2009)

  • Habitat Regions
  • tropical
  • terrestrial
  • saltwater or marine
  • Aquatic Biomes
  • coastal
  • Wetlands
  • marsh
  • swamp
  • Other Habitat Features
  • urban
  • estuarine

Physical Description

Brown pelicans are easily distinguished by their large body, long bill, and very large gular pouch. They are the darkest plumed of the pelicans. They weigh 2 to 5 kg, and males are 15 to 20% heavier than females. They have a body length of 100 to 137 cm, a bill that ranges from 25 to 38 cm in length (10% longer in males than females), and an average wingspan of 200 cm (which is 3 to 6% longer in males). They have feet with webbing that stretches from the front to the hind toe. Their gular pouch is able to hold up to 3 gallons of water, which is 3 times more than what the stomach can hold. The distal portion of the gular pouch is a dark gray-green year round and during mating, the proximal area of the gular pouch turns a bright red. During incubation, the proximal area of the pouch turns back to the normal gray-green color. (Bartholomew and Dawsom, 1954 Schreiber, 1980 Sheilds, 2002 Tangley, 2009)

During the first year, the underside is white and molt cycles are so rapid that definitive colors are not easily defined per molt. At around 10 weeks, molting starts and juvenile pelicans undergo 6 molts before reaching definitive basic plumage which then is slightly altered during breeding season. Around 3 to 5 years, plumage has developed, the upper areas turn gray to gray-brown, the abdomen turns a blackish-brown, and the remainder of the underside is striped with black and silver markings. During molting, adult pelicans can adopt up to 3 appearances. During post-breeding season the head becomes pale yellow and the neck becomes white. Immediately prior to breeding the head becomes yellow but the neck turns a dark brown color. During the nesting period, the head turns white with randomly-placed dark feathers and a brown neck. The plumage in males and females is similar except that females are likely to molt before males (females molt at 34 to 36 months males at 36 to 40 months). (Bartholomew and Dawsom, 1954 Schreiber, 1980 Sheilds, 2002 Tangley, 2009)

Juvenile brown pelicans display a brown iris which changes to a light tan or blue during courtship. After onset of incubation, the iris returns to a dark brown color. Additionally, juveniles display a black eye ring until 16 to 19 months, at which point it turns pale blue-black color. In adults, this eye ring is a gray-pink most of the year, changes to pink during mating, and then darkens to brown following onset of incubation. (Bartholomew and Dawsom, 1954 Schreiber, 1980 Sheilds, 2002 Tangley, 2009)

  • Other Physical Features
  • endothermic
  • homoiothermic
  • bilateral symmetry
  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass 2 to 5 kg 4.41 to 11.01 lb
  • Range length 100 to 137 cm 39.37 to 53.94 in
  • Average wingspan 200 cm 78.74 in


Brown pelicans are seasonally monogamous and nest in irregular patterns. They migrate to 20 to 30 degrees north latitude to breed if they do not live in this range year-round. Nesting lasts throughout the year in certain tropical regions, but generally begins in late fall and lasts into early June. Those which nest between 20 and 30 degrees north latitude nest more regularly through winter into spring. However, those which nest 30 to 35 degrees north of the equator nest definitively in the spring and summer seasons. Nesting is controlled by a variety of factors including: time to nest successfully, molt length, day length fluctuations, food abundance, time when freezing temperatures occur, and timing of hurricane season. Local environmental conditions are the main factor in determining nesting seasons. Sites are used annually until changes in nesting habitat, food availability, or human disturbances induce colony relocation. Breeding locations are ideally within 30 to 50 km of a consistent food supply. (Miller, 1983 Nellis, 2001 Schreiber, 1980 Sheilds, 2002)

Male brown pelicans select a nest site prior to courtship and pair bond formation. Males protect a potential nest area and nearby perches for up to 3 weeks. Males initiate courtship rituals but both males and females participate. Rituals include head swaying, bowing, and turning. Both sexes also release a "low raaa" call. Courtship typically lasts 2 to 4 days before pair bonding occurs, but can last up to 21 days. As part of the pair bonding and nest building ritual, males present females with nesting materials. Building the nest can take up to 7 days. The first egg is laid 3 days after the completion of the nest. (Miller, 1983 Nellis, 2001 Schreiber, 1980 Sheilds, 2002)

The breeding season of brown pelicans varies with latitude, often coinciding with local food abundance. In Maryland, they begin to lay eggs in late May through early September with peaks of egg laying varying between years. In North Carolina, the laying season is mid-March through July. In Florida, egg laying periods vary from east to west coasts egg laying is December to June on the Atlantic coast and January to June on the Gulf side. In Louisiana, the egg laying season was March to June up until the near extinction of the pelican population in this area. The new population now begins either in December or January and ends in June. Texas populations begin in March and last through June, with egg output peaking in April through May. In south California, egg laying starts in December, lasts until early August and peaks between February and May. In the Gulf of California, egg laying is November until May. In Panama, egg laying lasts from January until May. In west and southwest Puerto Rico, breeding peaks between September and November but in eastern Puerto Rico, brown pelicans breed year-round. In Venezuela, the breeding season is from November to June, peaking between January and February. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as the Galapagos Islands, breeding is year-round. (Bartholomew and Dawsom, 1954 Miller, 1983 Nellis, 2001 Robinson and Dindo, 2011 Sheilds, 2002)

Copulation occurs about 7 times before the first egg is laid and each act lasts 7 to 14 seconds. During copulation, the male grabs the female's upper neck with his bill, mounts her from behind, and holds her neck in this way until the act is over. The female is passive except for movements of her tail from side to side. Males perform a post mounting display by holding their bill open with their head set back upon the shoulders. Sometimes males will put on displays including bill throws and glottis exposure. (Bartholomew and Dawsom, 1954 Miller, 1983 Nellis, 2001 Robinson and Dindo, 2011 Sheilds, 2002)

After courtship, pairs build nests in trees or on the ground, and stay in colonies. The optimal spot for ground nests is in medium-density vegetation 1 to 2 meters off the ground. This location allows their offspring to leave the nest earlier than those in trees, some as early as 3 weeks old. The most ideal location for a nest in a tree is a spot with nearby branches adequate for landing and taking off. Male brown pelicans bring the nest-building materials while females build the nests. Material is dependent on what is available at the nest site. Ground nests can be as simple as a shallow depression in the sands lined with grass or as complex as a full structure built out of sticks, grass stems, and seaweed. Nests in trees are typically made up of sticks, grass, or leaves. Males have been documented stealing from unattended nests as well as using man-made materials such as rope or window screening. Males will continue to bring the female building materials during incubation and until juveniles reach fledgling age. (Bartholomew and Dawsom, 1954 Miller, 1983 Nellis, 2001 Robinson and Dindo, 2011 Sheilds, 2002)

Eggs have a textured surface and are chalky white in color. The number of eggs laid ranges from 1 to 4. Adult brown pelicans lay 3 eggs per season on average, while juvenile pelicans less than 3 years old lay no more than 2 eggs. Pelicans incubate eggs with their webbed feet. Both parents share responsibility for turning and incubating the eggs as well as protecting them from predation. The incubation period typically lasts 29 to 32 days and only about 70% of eggs laid in a season will hatch. Eggs are laid in 24 to 64 hour intervals but will still hatch within 1 day of one another. Brown pelicans in captivity have laid eggs to replace those lost during the nesting season. Brown pelican chicks have a have an egg-tooth on the tip of their beak which they use on the broadest part of the egg to break open the shell. After the initial peck, it usually takes 31 hours for the chicks to fully hatch. Initial weight of brown pelican chicks ranges from 54.9 to 87 grams with an average weight of 73.5 grams. Ten grams of this weight is egg yolk withheld in the abdomen. The egg tooth disappears within 10 days of hatching. (Bartholomew and Dawsom, 1954 Miller, 1983 Nellis, 2001 Robinson and Dindo, 2011 Sheilds, 2002)

Newly hatched chicks have pinkish gray skin covered in fluff. On postnatal day 9, the chicks' skin has darkened. By day 10, they are lightly covered in a layer of white down which is fully developed by day 20. The legs and feet of brown pelicans less than 24 days old are a dull white color. This quickly changes to a dark grey or black when they are juveniles and into adulthood. Juvenile feathers appear at day 30 and these are kept until adult feathers develop by age 3. They fledge at 11 weeks and are considered independent at 3 months. At this time, they abandon the nest but stay within the vicinity of their birth site. A study found that after forced relocation, most returned to their birth site within 3 years. Those which did not return founded new colonies instead of joining existing ones. Variation in the choice to return or not seemed dependent on food availability and suitable locations for nesting. These nesting areas need to be dry due to the fact that pelicans cannot be directly exposed to water for over an hour without becoming waterlogged. Brown pelicans can mate as young as 2 but the average is 3 to 4 years old. (Bartholomew and Dawsom, 1954 Miller, 1983 Nellis, 2001 Robinson and Dindo, 2011 Sheilds, 2002)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • iteroparous
  • seasonal breeding
  • year-round breeding
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • oviparous
  • Breeding interval Brown pelicans breed seasonally in colder climates and year-round in warmer climates.
  • Breeding season The breeding season varies with latitude and often depends on local food availability.
  • Range eggs per season 2 to 3
  • Average eggs per season 3
  • Average eggs per season 2 AnAge
  • Range time to hatching 29 to 30 days
  • Average time to hatching 30 days
  • Average fledging age 11 weeks
  • Average time to independence 3 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female) 2 to 4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female) 3-4 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male) 2 to 4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male) 3-4 years

Both males and females work together to build the nest, incubate the eggs, protect the nest, feed and protect the young, and teach the offspring how to fly. Parents alternate guarding the nest until the offspring are 4 to 6 weeks old. Nestlings are ectothermic at birth and rely on their parents to maintain internal temperature. The development of endothermy begins with increased mass, changes in metabolic rates, and an increase in downy feathers. Initially young brown pelicans feed by pecking regurgitated fish off the nest floor, but as coordination increases, they begin to feed directly from their parents' mouths. After the first 4 to 6 weeks, parents spend less time in the nest and mostly return to feed their young. At 5 to 6 weeks, the parents no longer roost in the nest at night, but rather on nearby perches. Parents feed the young until 11 to 12 weeks of age, when the young reach the fledgling stage. (Bartholomew and Dawsom, 1954 Nellis, 2001 Schreiber, 1980 Sheilds, 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
      • provisioning
        • male
        • female
        • male
        • female
        • provisioning
          • male
          • female
          • male
          • female


          Brown pelicans have a long lifespan. The oldest individual recorded in the wild was 43 years of age. About 30% of brown pelicans survive past the first year, and less than 2% survive longer than 10 years. Three banded individuals survived past the 20 year mark at 31, 37, and 43 years old. However these data may be incomplete because bands may corrode and fall off after 12 to 15 years. Hatched nestlings have been frequently recorded killing younger siblings either by directly pecking them on head or pushing them from nest, as well as indirectly by not allowing them to feed. The first hatched chick has a survival rate of 70% and one study found that up to 30% of nestlings in one breeding season were killed by the older sibling. (Nellis, 2001)


          Brown pelicans are diurnal, although they have been observed foraging at night during full moons. A 1986 study monitored a pelican via a transmitter for 68.8 daylight hours. The bird spent 32% of this time active and 68% inactive. It was never active at night, minimally active during twilight hours, and most active during daylight hours. Brown pelicans sleep on land either standing on both feet, or resting on their breast and belly, with their head on their shoulder and their bill tilted towards the side. When sunbathing, they usually spread one wing to the side, and rarely both. When bathing, they plunge their head below the surface, spreading their wings and beating their wings against the water's surface. After bathing, brown pelicans use their bills to spread oil secreted by the uropygial gland onto their feathers. (Nellis, 2001 Pennycuick, 1982 Schreiber and Schreiber, 1982 Schreiber, 1977)

          Brown pelicans are the only species in the pelican family that dives from the air as their primary means of obtaining food. They have air sacs which allow them to be very buoyant in the water. They never swim below the surface but will plunge their head below it in an attempt to catch prey. They paddle their webbed feet to move around on the water's surface. On land they tend to be clumsy and can use their wings for better balance by extending them outwards. In the air they alternate between gliding and flapping, with an average flap rate of 2.4 beats between gliding intervals. They glide just above the water's surface to decrease drag at an average speed of 11.7 meters per second. During takeoff they extend their necks, and then pull their head back onto the shoulders once in flight. (Nellis, 2001 Pennycuick, 1982 Schreiber and Schreiber, 1982 Schreiber, 1977)

          Brown pelicans are territorial of their nesting area. Threat displays include head swaying, which indicates readiness to interact. Defensive displays, often done when another pelican comes too close to the nest, include bowing followed by a "hrraa-hrraa" sound. Brown pelicans will avoid physical confrontation by displays of head swaying or raising their bill horizontally while spreading their wings. Play behaviors have been observed in nestlings, such as dismantling the nest or throwing sticks or shells into the air then retrieving them. Brown pelicans will defend their nest if intruders enter, often killing young pelicans who come too close. (Nellis, 2001 Pennycuick, 1982 Schreiber and Schreiber, 1982 Schreiber, 1977)

          Brown pelicans in northern ranges migrate south in autumn, returning during the months of March and April. The cold weather and decreased availability of surface prey induce migration. Small populations of brown pelicans do remain in the northern ranges during the the winter months. Thousands have been documented in North and South Carolina. Those flocks in warmer climates typically will not migrate. (Nellis, 2001 Pennycuick, 1982 Schreiber and Schreiber, 1982 Schreiber, 1977)

          • Key Behaviors
          • terricolous
          • flies
          • glides
          • natatorial
          • diurnal
          • crepuscular
          • motile
          • migratory
          • territorial
          • colonial

          Home Range

          Brown pelicans forage within 20 km of their nesting site during the breeding season. During the non-breeding season they forage up to 175 km from the mainland and 75 km from an island. (Sheilds, 2002)

          Communication and Perception

          Brown pelicans communicate through visual cues, chemical signals, acoustically, and in a tactile manner. Adult brown pelicans will communicate, particularly during mate selection and nest site protection, with a low "hrraa-hrraa" sound and head swaying. Other interactions include bowing, which is usually more of a defensive behavior. Non-aggressive behaviors include swinging of head side to side, raising of bill horizontally and spreading wings outward, and cleaning the opposite side of the nearby pelican. Peeps from eggs can be heard up to 2 days prior to the start of hatching. Nestlings release a high pitched, scratchy call to their parents usually while the parents are searching for food. (Schreiber, 1980)

          • Communication Channels
          • visual
          • tactile
          • acoustic
          • chemical
          • Perception Channels
          • visual
          • tactile
          • acoustic
          • chemical

          Food Habits

          Brown pelicans are carnivores, primarily feeding on fish but also small marine invertebrates. They are the only pelicans that dive for their food. Their astounding eyesight while in flight allows them to dive from up to 20 meters in the air. Although their eyesight is poor underwater, they can often be observed floating and feeding by surface-seizing with success. The lower jaw is split into two halves which turn out upon impact with the water's surface, forming a scoop with the gular pouch. Brown pelicans forage up to 20 km from their nesting sites and can travel up to 175 km from the mainland and 75 km from an island during non-breeding season from fall to early winter. Most are observed foraging close to shore but there are records of them diving up to 20 miles offshore and they are almost never seen feeding in freshwater lakes or streams. They are typically solitary while foraging, but if two or more forage together they will feed in sequence, driving fish towards the other(s). Foraging is most commonly observed in early morning and evening and occasionally at night during a full moon. Florida pelicans forage on small fish and some marine invertebrates in shallow waters, typically in water less than 150 meters deep. ("The California Brown Pelican recovery plan", 1983 Brandt, 1984 Carl, 1987 Nellis, 2001 Schnell, et al., 1983 Sheilds, 2002)

          Herring and fry fish in the Virgin Islands have been studied as being the fish of choice after being driven to the surface by other predatory fish such as sharks, salmon, and dolphins. From Cuba to Bermuda, stomach contents have shown herring, anchovies, sardines, and fry to all be consumed most frequently. Begging and scavenging on piers, docks, and boats can also make up a good portion of a their diet if they live within range of any of these. Laughing gulls ( Laris atricilla ) often steal food from their beaks, sometimes perching on their back and waiting for the opportunity. Although rare, brown pelicans have been observed stealing fish from the beaks of other birds as well. ("The California Brown Pelican recovery plan", 1983 Brandt, 1984 Carl, 1987 Nellis, 2001 Schnell, et al., 1983 Sheilds, 2002)

          The young are fed through regurgitation of pre-digested fish onto the nest floor and as much as 50 kg of fish is consumed from the hatchling to fledgling stage when raised in captivity. Although no comparable data has been collected on wild brown pelicans, captive adult pelicans have been recorded requiring 0.3 kg of fish per day during the summer months and 0.8 kg of fish per day during the winter months. ("The California Brown Pelican recovery plan", 1983 Brandt, 1984 Carl, 1987 Nellis, 2001 Schnell, et al., 1983 Sheilds, 2002)

          Not surprisingly, adult pelicans are more successful hunters than younger birds. A study in Southwest Mexico found that adult pelicans are successful 84% of time compared to only 75% of the time in juveniles. An even greater discrepancy was seen in a study done in Belize adults were successful 83% of the time where juveniles only had a success rate of 43%. These differences in feeding success could be attributed to diving and prey-handling skills, patch choice, knowledge of appropriate dive heights, angles, and ability to determine likelihood of success. Adult birds were seen "wheeling" in the air but if chance of successful foraging was determined to be low they would continue flying. Juveniles would always dive after a "wheel" regardless of interpreted success, therefore wasting more energy when not successful. A study done in Florida showed a linear correlation between age of the brown pelican and success rate: pelicans less than one year old had 4% success rate, 12 to 22 month old pelicans had a 8% success rate, 22 to 40 month old pelicans had a 12% success rate, and adults older than 36 months had a success rate of 14%. ("The California Brown Pelican recovery plan", 1983 Brandt, 1984 Carl, 1987 Nellis, 2001 Schnell, et al., 1983 Sheilds, 2002)

          Brown pelicans are able to drink saltwater due to the salt gland that is unique to birds (although non-functional and smaller in birds that are not exposed to high salinity) which excretes excess salt. These glands are located on the anterior sides of the eyes and are 2.6 to 3cm in length and 0.6 to 0.8 cm in width. These glands are necessary because the kidney is only able to rid the body of half the salt ingested. These glands are able to excrete salt in such high concentrations that it makes the drinking of saltwater tolerable and aids in conservation of water. ("The California Brown Pelican recovery plan", 1983 Brandt, 1984 Carl, 1987 Nellis, 2001 Schnell, et al., 1983 Sheilds, 2002)

          • Primary Diet
          • carnivore
            • piscivore
            • Animal Foods
            • fish
            • aquatic crustaceans
            • other marine invertebrates


            Humans, Homo sapiens are a serious predator of pelicans, hunting them for their meat, feathers, and eggs. Predatory birds, such as the fish crow ( Corvus ossifragu ) have been recorded destroying pelican eggs. Although it is rare, bobcats ( Felis rufus ) have been documented eating both the offspring and injured adults. Feral cats (Felis catus), feral dogs ( Canus lupus familiaris ), and raccoons (Procyon lotor) will eat the hatchlings when they are able. Two reptiles have been recorded preying on nestlings: Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura pectinata) and the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Invasive species such as red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) have infested nests and killed up to 60% of hatchlings in some calses. Although predation on adults is rare, they are occasionally attacked by sharks and sea lions (Otaria flavescens) while floating on the water. When approached by a predator, brown pelicans will usually flee individually without group cohesion. If it is during the incubation or brooding periods, parents will attempt to scare an approaching predator away before fleeing. (Nellis, 2001)

            • Known Predators
              • humans Homo sapiens
              • fish crows Corvus ossifragu
              • raccoons Procyon lotor
              • bobcats Felis rufus
              • feral cats Felis catus
              • feral dogs Canus lupus familiaris
              • Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas Ctenosaura pectinata
              • American alligators Alligator mississippiensis
              • red imported fire ants Solenopsis invicta
              • sharks Selachimorpha
              • sea lions Otaria flavescens

              Ecosystem Roles

              Fowl ticks Carios capensis and Ornithodoros denmarki are found in nests, but there are no documented cases of illness or death from these ectoparasites. Hippoboscid flies (Olfersia sordida) and epidermoptid mites ( Myialges caulotoon ) are two ectoparasites found on brown pelicans in the Galapagos Islands. In large numbers, mosquitoes can cause nest abandonment. Phagicola longus , Mesostephanus appendiculatoides, Galactostomum darbyi , and Stephanoprora denticulata are the four most prevalent of the 31 known helminths that inhabit the small intestine. One study found a mean of 7,134 helminths per bird, however, no known deaths have occurred as a result of these. Three species of diplostomes have been found in the small intestines of brown pelicans in Texas, which are Bolbophorus confusus, Bursacetabulus pelecanus , and Bursacetabulus macrobursus . Endoparasitic mites from the family Hypoderidae have been removed in subcutaneous tissues of the neck and trachea from brown pelicans in Florida and Louisiana. These include Phalacrodectes punctatissimus , Phalacrodectes pelecani , and Pelecanectes apunctatus . A study done on nestlings in Florida also found Coccidian sporozoa from Eimeria pelecani in fecal samples. (Sheilds, 2002)

              • fowl ticks Carios capensis
              • fowl ticks Ornithodoros denmarki
              • hippoboscid flies Olfersia sordida
              • epidermoptid mites Myialges caulotoon
              • helminth worms Phagicola longus
              • helminth worms Mesostephanus appendiculatoides
              • helminth worms Mesostephanus appendiculatoides
              • helminth worms Galactostomum darbyi
              • helminth worms Stephanoprora denticulata
              • diplostomes Bolbophorus confusus
              • diplostomes Bursacetabulus pelecanus
              • diplostomes Bursacetabulus macrobursus
              • endoparasitic mites Phalacrodectes punctatissimus
              • endoparasitic mites Phalacrodectes pelecani
              • endoparasitic mites Pelecanectes apunctatus
              • coccidian sporozoa Eimeria pelecani
              • Culicidae

              Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

              Humans benefit from pelicans by hunting, egging, and trapping. Their meat and eggs are used for food and their feathers have commercial value. A charismatic species, they are also valuable for research and educational purposes. (Sheilds, 2002)

              • Positive Impacts
              • food
              • body parts are source of valuable material
              • research and education

              Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

              Brown pelicans often specialize on schools of small fish. Although these fish are not directly beneficial to fisherman, they make up the diet of commercially important fish. (Schreiber, 1980)

              Conservation Status

              The IUCN Red List classifies brown pelicans as a species of least concern and the US Federal list gives them no special status. In the 1950's and 1960's, DDT was used as a pesticide and subsequently was passed through the food chain up to brown pelicans. This bioaccumulation altered the brown pelicans' physiology, decreasing the egg shell strength and causing eggs to break during incubation. In 1968 a restocking effort took plan in Louisiana, lasting for several years until 1976. During this time period 767 nestlings, 8 to 11 weeks in age, were transported to Louisiana from Florida and 221 nested in the area in which they were released. Despite a die-off in 1975 of about 40% of the population due to Endrin contamination, the brown pelican reached historical population sizes by 1990. Brown pelican were listed as endangered in 1970 but DDT was not outlawed until 1972. In 1985, brown pelicans was downgraded to threatened and in 2009 the species was removed from the list completely. Human disturbance, fish hooks and lines, oil spills, and human activities such as hunting, egging, and trapping threaten brown pelican populations. Annual surveys have found stable to increasing population size along with nesting success being recorded as having a high success rate. Pelicans are adjusted to boom-bust cycles and have adapted to hurricanes and El Nino effects which lower food availability. However, the long-term effects of the Gulf oil spill of 2010 are still unknown. During the oil spill, pelicans were the hardest hit, comprising 58% of bird mortality and injuries. (Nellis, 2001 Nesbitt, et al., 1978 Sheilds, 2002 Tangley, 2009)

              • IUCN Red List Least Concern
                More information
              • IUCN Red List Least Concern
                More information
              • US Migratory Bird Act No special status
              • US Federal List No special status
              • CITES No special status
              • State of Michigan List No special status

              Other Comments

              Pelecanus occidentalis originates from the Greek word pelakan and the species name is Latin for "western". (Nellis, 2001)


              Victoria Scott (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Kiersten Newtoff (editor), Radford University, Melissa Whistleman (editor), Radford University, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.


              living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

              living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

              uses sound to communicate

              having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

              an animal that mainly eats meat

              uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

              the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

              used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

              animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

              an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

              parental care is carried out by females

              A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

              offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

              parental care is carried out by males

              marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

              makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

              Having one mate at a time.

              having the capacity to move from one place to another.

              the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

              reproduction in which eggs are released by the female development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

              an animal that mainly eats fish

              mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

              breeding is confined to a particular season

              reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

              a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

              uses touch to communicate

              defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

              the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

              living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

              uses sight to communicate

              breeding takes place throughout the year


              U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The California Brown Pelican recovery plan. 1448-1342-98-N015. Washington, D.C.: USFWS. 1983.

              Anderson, D., J. Keith, G. Trapp, F. Gress, L. Moreno. 1989. Introduced Small Ground Predators in California Brown Pelican Colonies. Colonial Waterbirds , 12/1: 98-103.

              Bartholomew, G., W. Dawsom. 1954. Temperature Regulation in Young Pelicans, Herons, and Gulls. Ecology , 35/4: 466-472.

              Brandt, C. 1984. Age and Hunting Success in the Brown Pelican: Influences of Skill and Patch Choice on Forgaging Efficiency. Oecologia , 62/1: 132-137.

              Carl, R. 1987. Age-class variation in foraging techniques by Brown Pelicans. Condor , 89/3: 525-533.

              Croll, D., L. Balance, B. Wursig, B. Tyler. 1986. Movements and Daily Activity Patterns of a Brown Pelican in Central California. The Condor , 88/2: 258-260.

              Herbert, N., R. Schreiber. 1975. Diurnal Activity of Brown Pelicans at a Marina. Florida Field Naturalist , 3: 11-12.

              Kushlan, J., P. Frohring. 1986. Decreases in the Brown Pelican Population in Southern Florida. Colonial Waterbirds , 8/2: 83-95.

              Miller, J. 1983. The Family of Pelican. Science News , 124/4: 62.

              Nellis, D. 2001. Common Coastal Birds of Florida & the Caribbean . Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, Inc..

              Nesbitt, S., L. Williams, L. McNease, T. Joanen. 1978. Brown Pelican Restocking Efforts in Louisiana. The Wilson Bulletin , 90/3: 443-445.

              Pennycuick, C. 1982. Hermal soaring compared in three dissimilar tropical bird species, Fregata magnificens, Pelecanus occidentalis, and Coragyps atratus.. The Journal of Experimental Biology , 102: 307-325.

              Robinson, O., J. Dindo. 2011. Egg Success, Hatching Success, and Nest-site Selection of Brown Pelicans, Gaillard Island, Alabama, US. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology , 123/2: 386-390.

              Schmidt-Nelsen, K., R. Fange. 1958. The function of the salt gland in the Brown Pelican. The Auk , 75: 282-289.

              Schnell, G., B. Woods, B. Ploger. 1983. Brown Pelican foraging success and kleptoparasitism by Laughing Gulls. The Auk , 100/3: 636-644.

              Schreiber, R., E. Schreiber. 1982. Essential habitat of the Brown Pelican in Florida.. Florida Field Naturalist , 10: 9-17.

              Schreiber, R. 1977. Maintenance Behavior and Communication in the Brown Pelican. Ornithological Monographs , 22: 1-78.

              Schreiber, R. 1980. Nesting Chronology of the Eastern Brown Pelican. The Auk , 97/3: 491-508.

              Sheilds, M. 2002. The Birds of North America . Ithaca, NY: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

              Tangley, L. 2009. Oil Spill Hammers Brown Pelicans. National Wildlife , 48/6: 12-14.


              Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

              Pelican, any of seven or eight species of water birds in the genus Pelecanus constituting the family Pelecanidae (order Pelecaniformes), distinguished by their large elastic throat pouches. Pelicans inhabit lakes, rivers, and seacoasts in many parts of the world. With some species reaching a length of 180 cm (70 inches), having a wingspan of 3 metres (10 feet), and weighing up to 13 kg (30 pounds), they are among the largest of living birds.

              Pelicans eat fish, which they catch by using the extensible throat pouch as a dip-net. The pouch is not used to store the fish, which are swallowed immediately. One species, the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), captures fish by a spectacular plunge from the air, but other species swim in formation, driving small schools of fish into shoal water where they are scooped up by the birds.

              Pelicans lay one to four bluish white eggs in a stick nest, and the young hatch in about a month. The young live on regurgitated food obtained by thrusting their bills down the parent’s gullet. The young mature at three to four years. Though ungainly on land, pelicans are impressive in flight. They usually travel in small flocks, soaring overhead and often beating their wings in unison. The sexes are similar in appearance, but males are larger.

              The best-known pelicans are the two species called white pelicans: P. erythrorhynchos of the New World, the North American white pelican, and P. onocrotalus of the Old World, the European white pelican. Between 1970 and late 2009, the smaller, 107–137-cm brown pelican was listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Though the brown pelican once bred in enormous colonies along New World coasts, its population declined drastically in North America during the period 1940–70 as a result of use of DDT and related pesticides. The birds’ breeding improved after DDT was banned.

              Pelicans usually breed in colonies on islands there may be many small colonies on a single island. The gregarious North American white pelican breeds on islands in lakes in north-central and western North America all pairs in any colony at any given time are in the same stage of the reproductive cycle. It is migratory, as are some other species. The brown pelican breeds along the tropical and subtropical shores of both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

              Pelicans were once thought to be more closely related to cormorants, darters, frigate birds, and gannets and boobies, which were placed in the order Pelecaniformes with them. However, more recent genetic analysis suggests that the aforementioned seabirds may be more accurately grouped in their own order (Suliformes). A suggested revision of the order Pelecaniformes places pelicans with herons and egrets (family Ardeidae) and ibises and spoonbills (family Threskiornithidae) along with the hammerhead (Scopus umbretta) and the shoebill (Balaeniceps rex).

              Pelicans and Animal Dreams

              Earlier this year I wrote about the Common Loon, an occasional visitor to Santa Cruz and the Central Coast. A much more abundant seabird in the area is the Brown Pelican. Visitors and locals alike marvel at the beauty of the colorful pelican as it glides along the coastal waters and bluffs.

              The descriptors “white” and “brown” underestimate the color and beauty of pelicans. White pelicans are brilliantly white, with dark black wing tips, orange-yellow bills, and with yellow around the eyes. In their brightest breeding plumage, Brown pelicans, the smallest in the pelican family, have a golden-yellow head with bright eyes, a gray-brown and silver body, with an orange-reddish bill and pouch.

              I have been observing pelicans almost my entire life. As a teenager and young adult I watched White pelicans on Glacial lakes and marshes common to the Northern Plains where I was born. Later, as an adult after moving to the West coast, I was equally drawn to observing and learning the habits of Brown pelicans. The ethology of pelicans is quite interesting. Both Brown and White pelicans are absolutely dependent on water for survival. Both feed primarily on fish, but have very different methods of catching their prey. White pelicans scoop the fish near the surface of the water. At times, they congregate and “herd” their prey together driving the fish to the surface making them easier to catch by eliminating a route of escape. On the other hand, Brown pelicans dive for fish from as high as sixty feet in the air in an acrobatic display that is a thrill to watch. They hover above the water for a brief moment and then plunge straight down into a “perfect” dive. Brown pelicans are almost never found far from the coast. Contrary to this, White pelicans travel for vast stretches over land on their migration from summer to winter feeding grounds.

              During the winter, White pelicans can also be found occasionally in the Central coast area frequenting coastal marshland. Sometimes flocks of White pelicans fly so high in the sky that they appear only as “specks.” Watching this display with binoculars is mesmerizing. It seems as if they are simply enjoying the ability to glide in circular motions gracefully high up in the sky. Brown pelicans have their own unique flight patterns. They often fly in groups in line formation sometimes coming in wave after wave where the land meets the sea. Additionally, they can be found flying alone or in groups gliding very close to the surface of the water. At other times, Brown pelicans appear to be actually “surfing” a wave while riding the undulating rhythm of a breaking wave in a manner very similar to a human surfer on a surfboard. They can fly so close to the water that it looks like they may actually catch a wing tip and catapult straight into the water. Some of the physics and aerodynamics associated with this flight pattern is to reduce drag since a cushion of air is trapped beneath the wing.

              Brown Pelicans “Surfing” a Wave

              In addition to being extremely interesting and beautiful birds to study from an aesthetic and biological outlook, pelicans also serve as a very important symbolic image from a Jungian psychological perspective. In that regard, I chose an image of the Brown pelican for the central image on my website homepage. This choice came about synchronistically. I had been thinking about building a website for several weeks and was not sure of the direction to take, or the imagery to use. One day during this time and while walking alone down the beach, I was again thinking about ideas for a website. I spontaneously looked up, and a lone Brown pelican seemed as if it was diving straight toward me as it flew closely by and just above me. I think I may have even ducked. Just then it was clear to me. I knew that I had my image for my website. It would be a pelican. On my homepage, the pelican is “surfing” down a wave. Surfing a wave, by a person, or bird, is a powerful symbol for a way to live life, and can also represent the evolution inherent in an individual’s psychotherapy process.

              The pelican image can symbolize even more. In fact, pelicans have played a role in both Christian and alchemical symbolism representing sacrifice and resurrection (Caspari, 2003). In her wonderful book Animal Life in Nature, Myth and Dreams, Caspari describes comments made by Carl Jung concerning pelicans. She said about these comments, “Jung says that the pelican could illustrate the process of realization in which new insights emerge, die, go back into the unconscious and return again.”

              When pelicans appear in dreams they can be powerful and meaningful images. Just by their behavior alone, they represent an animal that absolutely needs the water to survive. The unconscious is often symbolized in dreams by water or the ocean. Individuals, like the pelican, also need an intimate relationship to water (the unconscious) in order to live a balanced and whole life.

              It is important to regard the animals, including birds, in your life and dreams as living images. They are “alive” with a psychic energy that may be necessary for your own psychological development. James Hillman (1997) said in his book, Dream Animals:

              Animals wake up the imagination. You see a deer by the side of the road, or geese flying in formation, and you become hyperalert. I’ve found that animal dreams can do this too. They really wake people up. Animal dreams provoke their feelings, get them thinking, interested and curious. As we get more into imagining, we become more animal-like. Not bestial, but more instinctually alive, and with more savvy, a keener nose and a sharper ear… (p. 2).

              Whether you live by the Central coast in California or if you are fortunate to live in another part of the country where pelicans frequent, take some time to watch and study this great bird. Pelicans have captivated us for thousands of years and hopefully will continue to do so for thousands more. Be open to allowing the animals in your life, as Hillman says, to “wake up the imagination.”

              Caspari, E. (2003). Animal Life in Nature, Myth and Dreams. Wilmette, Illinois: Chiron Publications.

              Hillman, J. & McLean, M. (1997). Dream Animals. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

              A huge waterbird with very broad wings, a long neck, and a massive bill that gives the head a unique, long shape. They have thick bodies, short legs, and short, square tails. During the breeding season, adults grow an unusual projection or horn on the upper mandible near the tip of the bill.

              Relative Size

              One of our largest flying birds: considerably larger than a Bald Eagle smaller than a California Condor.

              goose-sized or larger

              • Both Sexes
                • Length: 50.0-65.0 in (127-165 cm)
                • Weight: 158.7-317.5 oz (4500-9000 g)
                • Wingspan: 96.1-114.2 in (244-290 cm)

                Adult American White Pelicans are snowy white with black flight feathers visible only when the wings are spread. A small patch of ornamental feathers on the chest can become yellow in spring. The bill and legs are yellow-orange. Immatures are mostly white as well, but the head, neck, and back are variably dusky.

                American White Pelicans feed from the water’s surface, dipping their beaks into the water to catch fish and other aquatic organisms. They often upend, like a very large dabbling duck, in this process. They do not plunge-dive the way Brown Pelicans do. They are superb soarers (they are among the heaviest flying birds in the world) and often travel long distances in large flocks by soaring. When flapping, their wingbeats are slow and methodical.

                American White Pelicans typically breed on islands in shallow wetlands in the interior of the continent. They spend winters mainly on coastal waters, bays, and estuaries, or a little distance inland.

                Table of Contents

                • Scientific Classification
                • Type Species: Pelecanus Onocrotalus
                • SPECIES: Characteristics, Habitat, Diet, and Migrations
                  • 1. American White Pelican
                  • 2. Brown Pelican
                  • 3. Peruvian Pelican
                  • 4. Great White Pelican AKA Rosy Pelican, White Pelican
                  • 5. Australian Pelican
                  • 6. Pink Backed Pelican
                  • 7. Dalmatian Pelican
                  • 8. Spot-billed Pelican AKA Gray Pelican

                  The phylogenetic relationships of the extant pelicans inferred from DNA sequence data

                  The pelicans are a charismatic group of large water birds, whose evolutionary relationships have been long debated. Here we use DNA sequence data from both mitochondrial and nuclear genes to derive a robust phylogeny of all the extant species. Our data rejects the widespread notion that pelicans can be divided into white- and brown-plumaged groups. Instead, we find that, in contrast to all previous evolutionary hypotheses, the species fall into three well-supported clades: an Old World clade of the Dalmatian, Spot-billed, Pink-backed and Australian Pelicans, a New World clade of the American White, Brown and Peruvian Pelicans, and monospecific clade consisting solely of the Great White Pelican, weakly grouped with the Old World clade. We discuss possible evolutionary scenarios giving rise to this diversity.

                  Graphical abstract


                  ► We investigate the phylogenetic relationships of the extant pelicans. ► We use mitochondrial and nuclear genes to derive a robust phylogeny of the species. ► We reject the notion that they can be divided into white- and brown-plumaged groups. ► We discuss possible evolutionary scenarios giving rise to the current diversity. ► We discuss the taxonomic implications of the tree topology.

                  Franklin's gull

                  The nasal meow of the Franklin's gull can be heard as it soars above wetlands and meadows, and colonies of this species are reported to be the loudest of all the gulls. In breeding plumage, the black hood contrasts sharply with the white breast and bright red bill. This species depends much more on insects and other invertebrates than do other gulls, and is therefore considered economically beneficial and favored by farmers.

                  The Franklin's gull occurs in the southeast portion of the state in spring and summer, especially Harney Basin. It is rare west of the Cascades. It nests locally in most years only at Malheur National Wildlife Reservoir and Hart Mountain National Antelope Reservoir.

                  This gull is an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species in the Northern Basin and Range ecosystem.

                  Bonaparte's gull

                  Graceful and tern-like in many of its actions, this striking little gull displays flashing white outer primaries that contrast with a gray back.

                  The Bonaparte's gull is an abundant spring and fall transient along the coast, primarily over the ocean just offshore and is fairly common and widespread elsewhere in Oregon, usually in flocks of less than 100. Larger flocks of up to 1,000 have occurred at Fern Ridge Reservoir in Lane County, during extreme storm conditions, and in the Klamath Basin.

                  Photo by Martyne Reesman, ODFW

                  Heermann's gull

                  Heermann's gulls, the warm-water gulls of summer and fall, accompany Brown pelicans as they fly north each summer.

                  Although most feed along the shore or in the ocean, some feed on tide flats. They often steal food from Brown pelicans. They may take fish directly from the pelicans' bills immediately after a dive or claim food that pelicans have located, discarded, or disturbed.

                  This gull is common on the outer seacoasts, beaches, bays and estuaries. They are strongly associated with outer coasts and adjacent ocean waters, usually within a few miles of shore. A few wander inland during the fall southward retreat.

                  Mew gull

                  This small, gentle looking gull is one of the most abundant wintering gulls along the Pacific coast. It is often found foraging in mixed flocks with Ring-billed, and to a lesser extent, California gulls. Its small plover-like head and bill, and the habit of bobbing its head while walking, make it fairly easy to identify.

                  It is most often found actively foraging with similar-sized gulls on coastal farm fields and short grass meadows and lawn when such habitat is moist.

                  This is an abundant migrant and winter visitor along the coast, the lower Columbia River and in the Willamette Valley. It can also be seen, occasionally, in the summer.

                  Photo by Mick Thompson, Flickr

                  Ring-billed gull

                  This is a colonial species that uses rocky islands or spits in large freshwater marshes, lakes, and rivers for nesting. It may fly at least five miles from the nest to forage in marshes, rivers, pastures, or other open habitats.

                  There are colonies of Ring-billed gulls at marshes of southeastern Oregon and on islands in the Columbia and Snake rivers. There has been a colony near Baker City for over 20 years.

                  Photo by Kathy Munsel, ODFW

                  California gull

                  California gull colonies are usually located on islands with no vegetation in lakes or rivers. Sometimes colonies are on the shore, but these are subject to increased predation from mammalian carnivores.

                  There are several large colonies of California gulls in the southeastern marshes, and at least 5,000 gulls nest on islands in the Columbia River. Smaller numbers nest on islands in the Snake River near Ontario, in Malheur County.

                  Herring gull

                  Identification of the large pink-footed gulls (Herring, Thayer's, Glaucous-winged, Western and Glaucous) along the West Coast is difficult.

                  They are a common migrant and winter visitor offshore. Moderate numbers also winter in the Willamette Valley, concentrating with other gulls and landfills and other food sources and are most common around Portland and Eugene.

                  Thayer's gull

                  This mid-sized, pink-legged gull has caused much of the confusion in west coast gull classification and identification. Its plumage characteristics are similar to Herring, Iceland, and some Glaucous-winged hybrids, and great care is needed for correct identification. It differs from the Herring gull in having a much smaller bill, a darker eye, less black in the wing-tips and, often, a more rounded head.

                  Opportunistic feeders, Thayer's gulls regularly concentrate about landfills, food-processing plants, and over fish runs. It is a common migrant and fairly common winter visitor along the coast. The largest wintering numbers are found in the Portland metropolitan area where flocks of several hundred are not uncommon.

                  Photo by Jerry McFarland, Flickr

                  Western gull

                  This is a marine gull that breeds on both offshore islands and rocky cliffs along the Oregon Coast. It also uses structures for nesting and, occasionally, will nest on grass-covered headlands.

                  The Western gull's food comes from the marine environment, estuaries, and the immediate shoreline. It eats small fish, clams, mussels, bird eggs, the young of other birds nesting nearby, sea urchins, starfish, squid, crustaceans, marine worms, and carrion. it will scavenge garbage or waste from fishing boats as well.

                  It is present all year along the entire coast of Oregon.

                  Photo by Dave Budeau, ODFW

                  Glaucous-winged gull

                  This gull nests on offshore islands, rocky coastal cliffs, and sometimes in grass on level parts of headlands. It forages in the marine and intertidal environments.

                  Glaucous-winged gulls eat just about any animal material they find. They take small fish, barnacles, molluscs, sea urchins, bird eggs, carrion and animal waste discarded from fishing boats.

                  It is rare but regular along the coast and the Columbia River local and rare in the Willamette Valley. In can be uncommon midwinter at Sauvie Island. Most Glaucous-winged gulls in Oregon nest in the mouth of the Columbia River.

                  Glaucous gull

                  This large arctic gull visits the Northwest in winter where its pale bulk often stands out in gull flocks. Finding one is a highlight of winter birding. Even at a distance the size and frosty tones of this bird can be spotted in a flock. Most Oregon birds are in the whitish first-or-second-year plumage showing a pinkish bill with sharply delineated black tip, but third-year birds and adults occur now and then, mainly on the north coast and at Sauvie Island.

                  They are rare but regular along the coast and the Columbia River, and rare in the Willamette Valley. It has the usual eclectic feeding habits of large gulls, and is usually at home at dumps, beaches and river fronts.

                  Photo by Richard Mittleman, Flickr

                  Sabine's gull

                  The striking tri-colored upperwing pattern on this graceful little gull is diagnostic in all plumages - a bold white triangle bordered by black outer primaries and gray back and inner wing.

                  The Sabine's gull is most often observed flying in a steady migration over the ocean, and is seen seldomly foraging offshore. When ashore, it is found about coastal estuaries and inland lakes and impoundments picking food from the surface of the water, tidal flats, and along inland mud flats and shore edges.

                  In Oregon, it is is a common to abundant spring and fall transient over the continental shelf well offshore. It is irregular but fairly common in fall, as well.

                  Photo by Alan Vernon, Flickr

                  Black-legged kittiwake

                  These small agile gulls are predominantly pelagic, but can often be seen from shore and even idling around lower estuaries. It is found primarily on salt water and does not usually forage in dumps and pastures as most gulls do rather it stays over open ocean, along beaches and in lower estuaries, sometimes resting on the water or on jetties, sand spits and similar bare areas. They are often attracted to feeding swarms of loons, pelicans, tubenoses and other seabirds.

                  The Black-legged kittiwake is a migrant and winter resident in Oregon along the outer coast and offshore. Peak numbers are seen from boats and along the outer coast during migration.

                  Photo by Michael Horn, Flickr

                  Caspian tern

                  The Caspian tern nests on flat sandy or gravelly areas on islands, or on the margins of lakes, rivers, and marshes. It is always near water, and forages both in nearby water bodies and on prey exposed in nearby open areas.

                  Breeding colonies in recent years have been on islands in the Columbia River east of the Cascades in north central Oregon Malheur and Harney lakes in southeast Oregon Summer Lake and lakes in the Warner Valley in south central Oregon. Most colonies have a history of intermittent use.

                  It is a locally common summer resident during breeding season within foraging distance of nesting colonies and rare elsewhere. It is fairly common in bays and estuaries along the coast during spring and fall migration. Smaller numbers are found on inland waters during migration, including mid-Columbia, Willamette, and Snake rivers, large lakes in the western interior valleys, and lakes and reservoirs east of the Cascades and in south central Oregon.

                  Caspian terns are Oregon Conservation Strategy Species in these ecoregions: Coast Range, East Cascades, Northern Basin and Range, and Nearshore.

                  Photo by Kathy Munsel, ODFW

                  Black tern

                  This is Oregon's smallest breeding tern, with black head and body and gray wings during the breeding season. Black terns are delicate, graceful fliers, reminiscent of a nighthawk or swallow.

                  The Black tern breeds in marsh wetland complexes of southeast, south central and central Oregon. In western Oregon, a very small breeding population is found at a few sites in the Willamette Valley.

                  Common tern

                  This is a small tern most often seen along the coast flying along the beaches or hovering and diving over a school of fish just offshore. Breeding-plumage adults have sharp black caps, reddish bills, and forked tails, and are pale grayish above and white to pale gray below.

                  They are a common to abundant spring and fall transient over the ocean, usually within 15 miles, irregularly along the coast and in the estuaries. Nearshore and inland flocks are often observed resting in compact flocks on nearby shores or on floating objects, or flying about over the water in search of fish.

                  Photo by Corine Bliek, Flickr

                  Arctic tern

                  This graceful tern, with its aerodynamic body and streamlined wings, is infrequently seen from land in Oregon. It is most often encountered at sea as it makes one of the most incredible journeys in the animal kingdom, migrating from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again each year, a journey of nearly 22,000 miles.

                  A medium-sized bird with a reddish bill, it has a black cap and nape, and a white throat and cheek shading to a light gray body.

                  It is a common offshore transient in Oregon waters and an occasional migrant along the coast. The bulk of the population is thought to migrate 10-40 miles from land.

                  Photo by Jan Preston, Flickr

                  Forster's tern

                  Terns are generally associated with marine environments and salt marshes, but the Forster's tern inhabits freshwater areas.

                  During the breeding season this graceful bird is eastern Oregon's resident small white tern. Typical of terns, the Forster's employs a dramatic hunting method of plunge-diving into shallow waters to capture small fish, the bird sometimes submerging completely.

                  This is an uncommon but highly visible colonial breeder east of the Cascades.

                  Photo by Dave Budeau, ODFW

                  Elegant tern

                  A slender, orange bill, pearl gray upperparts, and fringed black crest adjoining a white face and neck indeed render this graceful hunter from the south elegant. The foreheads of adults turn white in post-breeding plumage, their usual state in Oregon.

                  These terns frequent quiet waters or lagoons when diving for fish, but also dive in calm ocean waters. They roost with flocks of gulls and other terns on coastal spits, estuarine sandbars, and on mudflats close to bay mouths.

                  Virtually all records of the Elegant tern in Oregon are coastal or within half a mile of shore. None have been reported inland.

                  Photo by Ingrid Taylar, Flickr

                  South polar skua

                  Skuas are the size of a Western gull, dark with a pale nape and large white patches on the bases of the primaries on both the upper and lower surfaces.

                  This is a solitary bird. Its flight is low and direct with heavy flapping and little gliding. It steals food from other seabirds, and is aggressive, bordering on predatory. It may grab a shearwater's head, wing, or tail and shake and kick the bird until it regurgitates its food.

                  Chances of detection are best around flocks of shearwaters feeding behind fishing boats. It is a rare to uncommon fall transient offshore. Skuas arrive in late June and are present in low numbers from late July-Aug to mid October.

                  Photo by Tony Morris, Flickr

                  Pomarine jaeger

                  These, the most numerous jaegers off Oregon, are slightly smaller than Herring gulls. Gull-like and graceful, these piratical birds steal food from smaller seabirds. They come in a bewildering array of light and dark individuals, confounded by age and sexual differences.

                  The Pomarine jaeger is an uncommon spring and fairly common fall transient offshore two to 50 miles, following shearwaters. Sightings have been centered near the continental shelf edge. They are occasionally observed from shore in fall.

                  Photo by Martyne Reesman, ODFW

                  Parasitic jaeger

                  Parasitic jaegers are strong, fast fliers with a flash of white on the bases of the underwing primaries. This is the most frequently seen jaeger from shore and it sometimes enters estuaries.

                  They are an uncommon fall and rare spring transient offshore. Their flight is low and unlabored with falcon-like wing-beats that alternate with shearwater-like glides. These birds chase terns and small gulls for up to several minutes until they disgorge food.

                  Photo by Aaron Maizlish, Flickr

                  Long-tailed jaeger

                  Graceful and buoyant fliers, adults are light gray-brown above with black caps, have dark flight feathers contrasting with grayer mantles and light underparts. Breeding adults have a central pair of tail feathers extremely long and pointed, extending up to eight inches past the rest of the tail.

                  They are not usually as aggressive as other jaegers and rely as much on food they pick from the ocean's surface as they do from food they steal from other small seabirds.

                  The Long-tailed jaeger is a rare to fairly common fall transient offshore. They are usually detected when Arctic terns and Sabine's gulls are in high numbers.


                  Etymology Edit

                  The genus Pelecanus was first formally described by Carl Linnaeus in his landmark 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae. He described the distinguishing characteristics as a straight bill hooked at the tip, linear nostrils, a bare face, and fully webbed feet. This early definition included frigatebirds, cormorants, and sulids, as well as pelicans. [5] The name comes from the Ancient Greek word pelekan (πελεκάν), [6] which is itself derived from the word pelekys (πέλεκυς) meaning "axe". [7] In classical times, the word was applied to both the pelican and the woodpecker. [8]

                  Taxonomy Edit

                  The family Pelecanidae was introduced (as Pelicanea) by the French polymath Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1815. [9] [10] Pelicans give their name to the Pelecaniformes, an order which has a varied taxonomic history. Tropicbirds, darters, cormorants, gannets, boobies, and frigatebirds, all traditional members of the order, have since been reclassified: tropicbirds into their own order, Phaethontiformes, and the remainder into the Suliformes. In their place, herons, ibises, spoonbills, the hamerkop, and the shoebill have now been transferred into the Pelecaniformes. [11] Molecular evidence suggests that the shoebill and the hamerkop form a sister group to the pelicans, [12] though some doubt exists as to the exact relationships among the three lineages. [13]

                  Cladogram based on Hackett et al. (2008). [11]

                  Living species Edit

                  The eight living pelican species were traditionally divided into two groups, one containing four ground-nesters with mainly white adult plumage (Australian, Dalmatian, great white, and American white pelicans), and one containing four grey- or brown-plumaged species which nest preferentially either in trees (pink-backed, spot-billed and brown pelicans), or on sea rocks (Peruvian pelican). The largely marine brown and Peruvian pelicans, formerly considered conspecific, [3] are sometimes separated from the others by placement in the subgenus Leptopelicanus [14] but in fact species with both sorts of appearance and nesting behavior are found in either.

                  DNA sequencing of both mitochondrial and nuclear genes yielded quite different relationships the three New World pelicans formed one lineage, with the American white pelican sister to the two brown pelicans, and the five Old World species the other. The Dalmatian, pink-backed, and spot-billed were all closely related to one another, while the Australian white pelican was their next-closest relative. The great white pelican also belonged to this lineage, but was the first to diverge from the common ancestor of the other four species. This finding suggests that pelicans evolved in the Old World and spread into the Americas, and that preference for tree- or ground-nesting is more related to size than genetics. [2]

                  Fossil record Edit

                  The fossil record shows that the pelican lineage has existed for at least 30 million years the oldest known pelican fossil was found in Early Oligocene deposits at the Luberon in southeastern France, and is remarkably similar to modern forms. [1] Its beak is almost complete and is morphologically identical to that of present-day pelicans, showing that this advanced feeding apparatus was already in existence at the time. [1] An Early Miocene fossil has been named Miopelecanus gracilis on the basis of certain features originally considered unique, but later thought to lie within the range of interspecific variation in Pelecanus. [1] The Late Eocene Protopelicanus may be a pelecaniform or suliform – or a similar aquatic bird such as a pseudotooth (Pelagornithidae). [37] The supposed Miocene pelican Liptornis from Patagonia is a nomen dubium (of doubtful validity), being based on fragments providing insufficient evidence to support a valid description. [38]

                  Fossil finds from North America have been meagre compared with Europe, which has a richer fossil record. [39] Several Pelecanus species have been described from fossil material, including: [40]

                  • Pelecanus cadimurka, Rich & van Tets, 1981 (Late Pliocene, South Australia) [41]
                  • Pelecanus cautleyi, Davies, 1880 (Early Pliocene, Siwalik Hills, India) [40]
                  • Pelecanus fraasi, Lydekker, 1891 (Middle Miocene, Bavaria, Germany) [40]
                  • Pelecanus gracilis, Milne-Edwards, 1863 (Early Miocene, France) (see: Miopelecanus) [40]
                  • Pelecanus halieus, Wetmore, 1933 (Late Pliocene, Idaho, US) [42]
                  • Pelecanus intermedius, Fraas, 1870 (Middle Miocene, Bavaria, Germany) [40] (transferred to Miopelecanus by Cheneval in 1984)
                  • Pelecanus odessanus, Widhalm, 1886 (Late Miocene, near Odessa, Ukraine) [43]
                  • Pelecanus schreiberi, Olson, 1999 (Early Pliocene, North Carolina, US) [39]
                  • Pelecanus sivalensis, Davies, 1880 (Early Pliocene, Siwalik Hills, India) [40]
                  • Pelecanus tirarensis, Miller, 1966 (Late Oligocene to Middle Miocene, South Australia) [44]

                  Pelicans are very large birds with very long bills characterised by a downcurved hook at the end of the upper mandible, and the attachment of a huge gular pouch to the lower. The slender rami of the lower bill and the flexible tongue muscles form the pouch into a basket for catching fish, and sometimes rainwater, [14] though not to hinder the swallowing of large fish, the tongue itself is tiny. [46] They have a long neck and short stout legs with large, fully webbed feet. Although they are among the heaviest of flying birds, [47] they are relatively light for their apparent bulk because of air pockets in the skeleton and beneath the skin, enabling them to float high in the water. [14] The tail is short and square. The wings are long and broad, suitably shaped for soaring and gliding flight, and have the unusually large number of 30 to 35 secondary flight feathers. [48]

                  Males are generally larger than females and have longer bills. [14] The smallest species is the brown pelican, small individuals of which can be no more than 2.75 kg (6.1 lb) and 1.06 m (3.5 ft) long, with a wingspan of as little as 1.83 m (6.0 ft). The largest is believed to be the Dalmatian, at up to 15 kg (33 lb) and 1.83 m (6.0 ft) in length, with a maximum wingspan of 3 m (9.8 ft). The Australian pelican's bill may grow up to 0.5 m (1.6 ft) long in large males, [49] the longest of any bird. [3]

                  Pelicans have mainly light-coloured plumage, the exceptions being the brown and Peruvian pelicans. [50] The bills, pouches, and bare facial skin of all species become brighter before breeding season commences. [51] The throat pouch of the Californian subspecies of the brown pelican turns bright red, and fades to yellow after the eggs are laid, while the throat pouch of the Peruvian pelican turns blue. The American white pelican grows a prominent knob on its bill that is shed once females have laid eggs. [4] The plumage of immature pelicans is darker than that of adults. [50] Newly hatched chicks are naked and pink, darkening to grey or black after 4 to 14 days, then developing a covering of white or grey down. [52]

                  Air sacs Edit

                  Anatomical dissections of two brown pelicans in 1939 showed that pelicans have a network of air sacs under their skin situated across the ventral surface including the throat, breast, and undersides of the wings, as well as having air sacs in their bones. [53] The air sacs are connected to the airways of the respiratory system, and the pelican can keep its air sacs inflated by closing its glottis, but how air sacs are inflated is not clear. [53] The air sacs serve to keep the pelican remarkably buoyant in the water [54] and may also cushion the impact of the pelican's body on the water surface when they dive from flight into water to catch fish. [53] Superficial air sacs may also help to round body contours (especially over the abdomen, where surface protuberances may be caused by viscera changing size and position) to enable the overlying feathers to form more effective heat insulation and also to enable feathers to be held in position for good aerodynamics. [53]

                  Modern pelicans are found on all continents except Antarctica. They primarily inhabit warm regions, although breeding ranges extend to latitudes of 45° South (Australian pelicans in Tasmania) and 60° North (American white pelicans in western Canada). [3] Birds of inland and coastal waters, they are absent from polar regions, the deep ocean, oceanic islands (except the Galapagos), and inland South America, as well as from the eastern coast of South America from the mouth of the Amazon River southwards. [14] Subfossil bones have been recovered from as far south as New Zealand's South Island, [55] although their scarcity and isolated occurrence suggests that these remains may have merely been vagrants from Australia (much as is the case today). [56]

                  Pelicans swim well with their strong legs and their webbed feet. They rub the backs of their heads on their preen glands to pick up an oily secretion, which they transfer to their plumage to waterproof it. [3] Holding their wings only loosely against their bodies, pelicans float with relatively little of their bodies below the water surface. [30] They dissipate excess heat by gular flutter – rippling the skin of the throat and pouch with the bill open to promote evaporative cooling. [14] They roost and loaf communally on beaches, sandbanks, and in shallow water. [14]

                  A fibrous layer deep in the breast muscles can hold the wings rigidly horizontal for gliding and soaring. Thus, they use thermals for soaring to heights of 3000 m (10,000 ft) or more, [57] combined both with gliding and with flapping flight in V formation, to commute distances up to 150 km (93 mi) to feeding areas. [3] Pelicans also fly low (or "skim") over stretches of water, using a phenomenon known as ground effect to reduce drag and increase lift. As the air flows between the wings and the water surface, it is compressed to a higher density and exerts a stronger upward force against the bird above. [58] Hence, substantial energy is saved while flying. [59]

                  Adult pelicans rely on visual displays and behaviour to communicate, [60] particularly using their wings and bills. Agonistic behaviour consists of thrusting and snapping at opponents with their bills, or lifting and waving their wings in a threatening manner. [61] Adult pelicans grunt when at the colony, but are generally silent elsewhere or outside breeding season. [30] [62] [63] [64] Conversely, colonies are noisy, as chicks vocalise extensively. [60]

                  Breeding and lifespan Edit

                  Pelicans are gregarious and nest colonially. Pairs are monogamous for a single season, but the pair bond extends only to the nesting area mates are independent away from the nest. The ground-nesting (white) species have a complex communal courtship involving a group of males chasing a single female in the air, on land, or in the water while pointing, gaping, and thrusting their bills at each other. They can finish the process in a day. The tree-nesting species have a simpler process in which perched males advertise for females. [3] The location of the breeding colony is constrained by the availability of an ample supply of fish to eat, although pelicans can use thermals to soar and commute for hundreds of kilometres daily to fetch food. [51]

                  The Australian pelican has two reproductive strategies depending on the local degree of environmental predictability. Colonies of tens or hundreds, rarely thousands, of birds breed regularly on small coastal and subcoastal islands where food is seasonally or permanently available. In arid inland Australia, especially in the endorheic Lake Eyre basin, pelicans breed opportunistically in very large numbers of up to 50,000 pairs, when irregular major floods, which may be many years apart, fill ephemeral salt lakes and provide large amounts of food for several months before drying out again. [57]

                  In all species, copulation takes place at the nest site it begins shortly after pairing and continues for 3–10 days before egg-laying. The male brings the nesting material, in ground-nesting species (which may not build a nest) sometimes in the pouch, and in tree-nesting species crosswise in the bill. The female then heaps the material up to form a simple structure. [3]

                  The eggs are oval, white, and coarsely textured. [14] All species normally lay at least two eggs the usual clutch size is one to three, rarely up to six. [14] Both sexes incubate with the eggs on top of or below the feet they may display when changing shifts. Incubation takes 30–36 days [14] hatching success for undisturbed pairs can be as high as 95%, but because of sibling competition or siblicide, in the wild, usually all but one nestling dies within the first few weeks (later in the pink-backed and spot-billed species). Both parents feed their young. Small chicks are fed by regurgitation after about a week, they are able to put their heads into their parents' pouches and feed themselves. [52] Sometimes before, but especially after being fed the pelican chick may seem to "throw a tantrum" by loudly vocalizing and dragging itself around in a circle by one wing and leg, striking its head on the ground or anything nearby and the tantrums sometimes end in what looks like a seizure that results in the chick falling briefly unconscious the reason is not clearly known, but a common belief is that it is to draw attention to itself and away from any siblings who are waiting to be fed. [3]

                  Parents of ground-nesting species sometimes drag older young around roughly by the head before feeding them. From about 25 days old, [14] the young of these species gather in "pods" or "crèches" of up to 100 birds in which parents recognise and feed only their own offspring. By 6–8 weeks they wander around, occasionally swimming, and may practise communal feeding. [3] Young of all species fledge 10–12 weeks after hatching. They may remain with their parents afterwards, but are now seldom or never fed. They are mature at three or four years old. [14] Overall breeding success is highly variable. [3] Pelicans live for 15 to 25 years in the wild, although one reached an age of 54 years in captivity. [51]

                  Feeding Edit

                  The diet of pelicans usually consists of fish, [51] but occasionally amphibians, turtles, crustaceans, insects, birds, and mammals are also eaten. [65] [66] [67] The size of the preferred prey fish varies depending on pelican species and location. For example, in Africa, the pink-backed pelican generally takes fish ranging in size from fry up to 400 g (0.9 lb) and the great white pelican prefers somewhat larger fish, up to 600 g (1.3 lb), but in Europe, the latter species has been recorded taking fish up to 1,850 g (4.1 lb). [67] In deep water, white pelicans often fish alone. Nearer the shore, several encircle schools of small fish or form a line to drive them into the shallows, beating their wings on the water surface and then scooping up the prey. [68] Although all pelican species may feed in groups or alone, the Dalmantian, pink-backed, and spot-billed pelicans are the only ones to prefer solitary feeding. When fishing in groups, all pelican species have been known to work together to catch their prey, and Dalmantian pelicans may even cooperate with great cormorants. [67] They catch multiple small fish by expanding the throat pouch, which must be drained above the water surface before swallowing. This operation takes up to a minute, during which time other seabirds may steal the fish.

                  Large fish are caught with the bill-tip, then tossed up in the air to be caught and slid into the gullet head-first. A gull will sometimes stand on the pelican's head, peck it to distraction, and grab a fish from the open bill. [69] Pelicans in their turn sometimes snatch prey from other waterbirds. [3]

                  The brown pelican usually plunge-dives head-first for its prey, from a height as great as 10–20 m (33–66 ft), especially for anchovies and menhaden. [70] [68] [67] The only other pelican to feed using a similar technique is the Peruvian pelican, but its dives are typically from a lower height than the brown pelican. [71] The Australian and American white pelicans may feed by low plunge-dives landing feet-first and then scooping up the prey with the beak, but they—as well as the remaining pelican species—primarily feed while swimming on the water. [67] Aquatic prey is most commonly taken at or near the water surface. [50] Although principally a fish eater, the Australian pelican is also an eclectic and opportunistic scavenger and carnivore that forages in landfill sites, as well as taking carrion [72] and "anything from insects and small crustaceans to ducks and small dogs". [72] Food is not stored in a pelican's throat pouch, contrary to popular folklore. [51]

                  Great white pelicans have been observed swallowing city pigeons in St. James's Park in London. [66] Spokeswoman for the Royal Parks Louise Wood opined that feeding on other birds is more likely with captive pelicans that live in a semiurban environment and are in constant close contact with humans. [66] However, in southern Africa, eggs and chicks of the Cape cormorant are an important food source for great white pelicans. [67] Several other bird species have been recorded in the diet of this pelican in South Africa, including Cape gannet chicks on Malgas Island [73] as well as crowned cormorants, kelp gulls, greater crested terns, and African penguins on Dassen Island and elsewhere. [74] The Australian pelican, which is particularly willing to take a wide range of prey items, has been recorded feeding on young Australian white ibis, and young and adult grey teals and silver gulls. [67] [75] Brown pelicans have been reported preying on young common murres in California and the eggs and nestlings of cattle egrets and nestling great egrets in Baja California, Mexico. [76] Peruvian pelicans in Chile have been recorded feeding on nestlings of imperial shags, juvenile Peruvian diving petrels, and grey gulls. [77] [78] Cannibalism of chicks of their own species is known from the Australian, brown, and Peruvian pelicans. [75] [76] [78]

                  Populations Edit

                  Globally, pelican populations are adversely affected by these main factors: declining supplies of fish through overfishing or water pollution, destruction of habitat, direct effects of human activity such as disturbance at nesting colonies, hunting and culling, entanglement in fishing lines and hooks, and the presence of pollutants such as DDT and endrin. Most species' populations are more or less stable, although three are classified by the IUCN as being at risk. All species breed readily in zoos, which is potentially useful for conservation management. [79]

                  The combined population of brown and Peruvian pelicans is estimated at 650,000 birds, with around 250,000 in the United States and Caribbean, and 400,000 in Peru. [a] The National Audubon Society estimates the global population of the brown pelican at 300,000. [81] Numbers of brown pelican plummeted in the 1950s and 1960s, largely as a consequence of environmental DDT pollution, and the species was listed as endangered in the US in 1970. With restrictions on DDT use in the US from 1972, its population has recovered, and it was delisted in 2009. [80] [82]

                  The Peruvian pelican is listed as near threatened because, although the population is estimated by BirdLife International to exceed 500,000 mature individuals, and is possibly increasing, it has been much higher in the past. It declined dramatically during the 1998 El Niño event and could experience similar declines in the future. Conservation needs include regular monitoring throughout the range to determine population trends, particularly after El Niño years, restricting human access to important breeding colonies, and assessing interactions with fisheries. [83]

                  The spot-billed pelican has an estimated population between 13,000 and 18,000 and is considered to be near threatened in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Numbers declined substantially during the 20th century, one crucial factor being the eradication of the important Sittaung valley breeding colony in Burma through deforestation and the loss of feeding sites. [84] The chief threats it faces are from habitat loss and human disturbance, but populations have mostly stabilised following increased protection in India and Cambodia. [36]

                  The pink-backed pelican has a large population ranging over much of sub-Saharan Africa. In the absence of substantial threats or evidence of declines across its range, its conservation status is assessed as being of least concern. Regional threats include the drainage of wetlands and increasing disturbance in southern Africa. The species is susceptible to bioaccumulation of toxins and the destruction of nesting trees by logging. [85]

                  The American white pelican has increased in numbers, [4] with its population estimated at over 157,000 birds in 2005, becoming more numerous east of the continental divide, while declining in the west. [86] However, whether its numbers have been affected by exposure to pesticides is unclear, as it has also lost habitat through wetland drainage and competition with recreational use of lakes and rivers. [4]

                  Great white pelicans range over a large area of Africa and southern Asia. The overall trend in numbers is uncertain, with a mix of regional populations that are increasing, declining, stable, or unknown, but no evidence has been found of rapid overall decline, and the status of the species is assessed as being of least concern. Threats include the drainage of wetlands, persecution and sport hunting, disturbance at the breeding colonies, and contamination by pesticides and heavy metals. [87]

                  The Dalmatian pelican has a population estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000 following massive declines in the 19th and 20th centuries. The main ongoing threats include hunting, especially in eastern Asia, disturbance, coastal development, collision with overhead power lines, and the over-exploitation of fish stocks. [88] It is listed as near threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as the population trend is downwards, especially in Mongolia, where it is nearly extinct. However, several European colonies are increasing in size and the largest colony for the species, at the Small Prespa Lake in Greece, has reached about 1,400 breeding pairs following conservation measures. [34]

                  Widespread across Australia, [4] the Australian pelican has a population generally estimated at between 300,000 and 500,000 individuals. [89] Overall population numbers fluctuate widely and erratically depending on wetland conditions and breeding success across the continent. The species is assessed as being of least concern. [90]

                  Culling and disturbance Edit

                  Pelicans have been persecuted by humans for their perceived competition for fish, despite the fact that their diet overlaps little with fish caught by people. [4] Starting in the 1880s, American white pelicans were clubbed and shot, their eggs and young were deliberately destroyed, and their feeding and nesting sites were degraded by water management schemes and wetland drainage. [4] Even in the 21st century, an increase in the population of American white pelicans in southeastern Idaho in the US was seen to threaten the recreational cutthroat trout fishery there, leading to official attempts to reduce pelican numbers through systematic harassment and culling. [91]

                  Great white pelicans on Dyer Island, in the Western Cape region of South Africa, were culled during the 19th century because their predation of the eggs and chicks of guano-producing seabirds was seen to threaten the livelihood of the guano collectors. [74] More recently, such predation at South African seabird colonies has impacted on the conservation of threatened seabird populations, especially crowned cormorants, Cape cormorants, and bank cormorants. This has led to suggestions that pelican numbers should be controlled at vulnerable colonies. [74]

                  Apart from habitat destruction and deliberate, targeted persecution, pelicans are vulnerable to disturbance at their breeding colonies by birdwatchers, photographers, and other curious visitors. Human presence alone can cause the birds to accidentally displace or destroy their eggs, leave hatchlings exposed to predators and adverse weather, or even abandon their colonies completely. [92] [93] [94]

                  Poisoning and pollution Edit

                  DDT pollution in the environment was a major cause of decline of brown pelican populations in North America in the 1950s and 1960s. It entered the oceanic food web, contaminating and accumulating in several species, including one of the pelican's primary food fish – the northern anchovy. Its metabolite DDE is a reproductive toxicant in pelicans and many other birds, causing eggshell thinning and weakening, and consequent breeding failure through the eggs being accidentally crushed by brooding birds. Since an effective ban on the use of DDT was implemented in the US in 1972, the eggshells of breeding brown pelicans there have thickened and their populations have largely recovered. [70] [95]

                  In the late 1960s, following the major decline in brown pelican numbers in Louisiana from DDT poisoning, 500 pelicans were imported from Florida to augment and re-establish the population over 300 subsequently died in April and May 1975 from poisoning by the pesticide endrin. [96] About 14,000 pelicans, including 7500 American white pelicans, perished from botulism after eating fish from the Salton Sea in 1990. [4] In 1991, abnormal numbers of brown pelicans and Brandt's cormorants died at Santa Cruz, California, when their food fish (anchovies) were contaminated with neurotoxic domoic acid, produced by the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia. [97]

                  As waterbirds that feed on fish, pelicans are highly susceptible to oil spills, both directly by being oiled and by the impact on their food resources. A 2007 report to the California Fish and Game Commission estimated that during the previous 20 years, some 500–1000 brown pelicans had been affected by oil spills in California. [94] A 2011 report by the Center for Biological Diversity, a year after the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, said that 932 brown pelicans had been collected after being affected by oiling and estimated that 10 times that number had been harmed as a result of the spill. [98]

                  Where pelicans interact with fishers, through either sharing the same waters or scavenging for fishing refuse, they are especially vulnerable to being hooked and entangled in both active and discarded fishing lines. Fish hooks are swallowed or catch in the skin of the pouch or webbed feet, and strong monofilament fishing line can become wound around bill, wings, or legs, resulting in crippling, starvation, and often death. Local rescue organisations have been established in North America and Australia by volunteers to treat and rehabilitate injured pelicans and other wildlife. [99] [100] [101]

                  Parasites and disease Edit

                  As with other bird families, pelicans are susceptible to a variety of parasites. Avian malaria is carried by the mosquito Culex pipens, and high densities of these biting insects may force pelican colonies to be abandoned. Leeches may attach to the vent or sometimes the inside of the pouch. [102] A study of the parasites of the American white pelican found 75 different species, including tapeworms, flukes, flies, fleas, ticks, and nematodes. Many of these do little harm, but flies may be implicated in the death of nestlings, particularly if they are weak or unwell, and the soft tick Ornithodoros capensis sometimes causes adults to desert the nest.

                  The brown pelican has a similarly extensive range of parasites. The nematodes Contracaecum multipapillatum and C. mexicanum and the trematode Ribeiroia ondatrae have caused illness and mortality in the Puerto Rican population, possibly endangering the pelican on this island. [103]

                  Many pelican parasites are found in other bird groups, but several lice are very host-specific. [104] Healthy pelicans can usually cope with their lice, but sick birds may carry hundreds of individuals, which hastens a sick bird's demise. The pouch louse Piagetiella peralis occurs in the pouch and so it cannot be removed by preening. While this is usually not a serious problem even when present in such numbers that it covers the whole interior of the pouch, sometimes inflammation and bleeding may occur from it and harm the host. [104]

                  In May 2012, hundreds of Peruvian pelicans were reported to have perished in Peru from a combination of starvation and roundworm infestation. [105]

                  The pelican (henet in Egyptian) was associated in Ancient Egypt with death and the afterlife. It was depicted in art on the walls of tombs, and figured in funerary texts, as a protective symbol against snakes. Henet was also referred to in the Pyramid Texts as the "mother of the king" and thus seen as a goddess. References in nonroyal funerary papyri show that the pelican was believed to possess the ability to prophesy safe passage in the underworld for someone who had died. [106]

                  Consumption of pelican, as with other seabirds, is considered not kosher as an unclean animal, and thus forbidden in Jewish dietary law. [107] [108]

                  An origin myth from the Murri people of Queensland, cited by Andrew Lang, describes how the Australian pelican acquired its black and white plumage. The pelican, formerly a black bird, made a canoe during a flood to save drowning people. He fell in love with a woman he thus saved, but her friends and she tricked him and escaped. The pelican consequently prepared to go to war against them by daubing himself with white clay as war paint. However, before he had finished, another pelican, on seeing such a strange piebald creature, killed him with its beak, and all such pelicans have been black and white ever since. [109]

                  The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped nature. [110] They placed emphasis on animals and often depicted pelicans in their art. [111]

                  Alcatraz Island was given its name by the Spanish because of the large numbers of brown pelicans nesting present. The word alcatraz is itself derived from the Arabic al-caduos, a term used for a water-carrying vessel and likened to the pouch of the pelican. The English name albatross is also derived by corruption of the Spanish word. [112] [113]

                  Christianity Edit

                  In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing them with blood by wounding her own breast when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican came to symbolise the Passion of Jesus and the Eucharist, [114] supplementing the image of the lamb and the flag. [115] A reference to this mythical characteristic is contained for example in the hymn by Saint Thomas Aquinas, "Adoro te devote" or "Humbly We Adore Thee", where in the penultimate verse, he describes Christ as the loving divine pelican, one drop of whose blood can save the world. [116]

                  Elizabeth I of England adopted the symbol, portraying herself as the "mother of the Church of England". The Pelican Portrait of her was painted around 1573, probably by Nicholas Hilliard. [117] A pelican feeding her young is depicted in an oval panel at the bottom of the title page of the first (1611) edition of the King James Bible. [115] Such "a pelican in her piety" appears in the 1686 reredos by Grinling Gibbons in the church of St Mary Abchurch in the City of London. Earlier medieval examples of the motif appear in painted murals, for example that of circa 1350 in the parish church of Belchamp Walter, Essex. [118]

                  The self-sacrificial aspect of the pelican was reinforced by the widely read medieval bestiaries. The device of "a pelican in her piety" or "a pelican vulning (from Latin vulno, "to wound") herself" was used in heraldry. An older version of the myth is that the pelican used to kill its young then resurrect them with its blood, again analogous to the sacrifice of Jesus. Likewise, a folktale from India says that a pelican killed her young by rough treatment, but was then so contrite that she resurrected them with her own blood. [3]

                  The legends of self-wounding and the provision of blood may have arisen because of the impression a pelican sometimes gives that it is stabbing itself with its bill. In reality, it often presses this onto its chest to fully empty the pouch. Another possible derivation is the tendency of the bird to rest with its bill on its breast the Dalmatian pelican has a blood-red pouch in the early breeding season and this may have contributed to the myth. [3]

                  Heraldry Edit

                  Pelicans have featured extensively in heraldry, generally using the Christian symbolism of the pelican as a caring and self-sacrificing parent. [119] Heraldic images featuring a "pelican vulning" refers to a pelican injuring herself, while a "pelican in her piety" refers to a female pelican feeding her young with her own blood. [120]

                  The image became linked to the medieval religious feast of Corpus Christi. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge each have colleges named for the religious festival nearest the dates of their establishment, [115] and both Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, [121] and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, feature pelicans on their coats of arms. [122]

                  The medical faculties of Charles University in Prague also have a pelican as their emblem. [123] The symbol of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service is a pelican, and for most of its existence the headquarters of the service was located at Pelican House in Dublin, Ireland. [124] The heraldic pelican also ended up as a pub name and image, though sometimes with the image of the ship Golden Hind. [125] Sir Francis Drake's famous ship was initially called Pelican, and adorned the British halfpenny coin. [126]

                  Modern usage Edit

                  The great white pelican is the national bird of Romania. [127] The brown pelican is the national bird of three Caribbean countries—Saint Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, and Sint Maarten—and features on their coats of arms. [128] [129] [130] It is also the state bird of the US state of Louisiana, which is known colloquially as the Pelican State the bird appears on the state flag and state seal. [8] It adorns the seals of Louisiana State University and Tulane University, and is the mascot of the New Orleans Pelicans NBA team, the Lahti Pelicans ice hockey team, Tulane University, and the University of the West Indies. A white pelican logo is used by the Portuguese bank Montepio Geral, [131] and a pelican is depicted on the reverse of the Albanian 1 lek coin, issued in 1996. [132] The name and image were used for Pelican Books, an imprint of nonfiction books published by Penguin Books. [8] The seal of the Packer Collegiate Institute, a pelican feeding her young, has been in use since 1885. [133]

                  The Christian Democratic political party known as the American Solidarity Party uses the pelican as its animal symbol, alluding to its Catholic social teaching platform.

                  The pelican is the subject of a popular limerick originally composed by Dixon Lanier Merritt in 1910 with several variations by other authors. [134] The original version ran: [135]

                  A wonderful bird is the pelican,
                  His bill will hold more than his belican,
                  He can take in his beak
                  Food enough for a week,
                  But I'm damned if I see how the helican.

                  1. ^ The US government has not accepted the elevation of the two taxa into separate species. [80]
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                  Cited texts Edit

                  • Elliott, Andrew (1992). "Family Pelecanidae (Pelicans)". In del Hoyo, Josep Elliott, Andrew Sargatal, Jordi (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 290–311. ISBN978-84-87334-10-8 .
                    The dictionary definition of pelican at Wiktionary Media related to Pelecanus at Wikimedia Commons on the Internet Bird Collection

                  120 ms 8.3% Scribunto_LuaSandboxCallback::expandTemplate 80 ms 5.6% Scribunto_LuaSandboxCallback::sub 60 ms 4.2% Scribunto_LuaSandboxCallback::plain 60 ms 4.2% recursiveClone 40 ms 2.8% gsplit 40 ms 2.8% Scribunto_LuaSandboxCallback::match 40 ms 2.8% [others] 320 ms 22.2% Number of Wikibase entities loaded: 18/400 -->


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