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Eastern Brown Pelican (Pelicanus occidentalis)

By: C.M.Shorter

Florida Everglades Estern Brown Pelican
Eastern Brown Pelican
Pictures of Pelicans >>

The Eastern Brown Pelican, also known as the American Brown Pelican or Common Pelican is a large bird yet the smallest of the world’s eight Pelican species.   The Brown Pelican has an average weight of 8-10 lbs, measures 4 ft. in length with a magnificent wingspan of 6 ½ to 7 ½ ft. and now makes it home throughout southern Florida.  However, the Eastern Brown Pelican can be found nowhere else in numbers like the prime breeding grounds of Pelican Island off the east coast of Florida.  Many people do not realize the great historic conservation significance of the Eastern Brown Pelican.  Pelican Island was declared on March 14, 1903 as America’s first Federal Bird Reservation by then President Theodore Roosevelt.  Pelican Island was the first of over 51 national Bird Preservations established during Roosevelt’s terms as President.  Ecotourism continues to grow every year at  Pelican Island.   People travel from all over the world to view the many birds and animals who find protection and shelter in this famous natural sanctuary.  CLICK HERE TO SEE ANIMAL WEBCAMS

Eastern Brown Pelicans can be found throughout the Florida Keys, along all waterways, canals, estuaries, boat docks, ocean shorelines and piers, and are often seen around popular seaside cafes drawn by tourist in hopes of getting a free handout!  Pelicans are a colonial species, nesting in colonies on the ground.  They can be found in groups wherever habitat is suitable – sometimes easily seen shore side but also found deep in the hardwood hammocks & salt marsh grasses of the Florida Everglades where they now have established breeding rookeries.   The Brown Pelican has 4 named subspecies reflecting their home range -  the California Brown Pelican, the Caribbean Brown Pelican, the Eastern Brown Pelican and the Galapagos Brown Pelican

The Eastern Brown Pelican, is brownish-grey in body and primary feather coloring having a darker underside, white necks and heads crowned with yellow.  Their large pouched bills are grey in color and their feet are a solid black.  During breeding season the throat becomes chestnut in color and a yellow patch can be seen at the base of the neck.  The color of a Pelican’s eyes is striking – irises often of sky-blue ringed in pink.  Baby Pelicans are a fluffy lighter brown & often learn to swim before they can fly. 

Pelicans are very social, congregating in flocks throughout the years – they are gregarious by nature and a joy to see in the wild.  Pelicans often soar in groups and fly squadron style, necks folded and have exceptionally keen eyesight.  It is not unusual for Pelicans to sky-dive from altitudes of 60-70ft looking for schools of fish to make a meal completely submersing itself, similar to the Osprey’s spectacular aerial dives.   The Pelican is equipped with air sacs beneath the surface of its skin which cushions the impact and helps them surface quickly.  The loose skin of the lower mandible pouch is called a “gular” pouch which is used as a dip net and can filter an amazing 3 Gallons of water to sieve out prey.  This pouch doubles as a holding tank for their catch.  Pelicans consume as much as 4 lbs of fish per day and feed on many fish including anchovies, menhaden, herring, mullet, minnows, shiners; also on squid, tadpoles, frogs, prawns and other crustaceans.   Like the wild Fishing Cat, the Pelicans are primarily piscivorous (fish eating), but often supplement their diet with other wild menu fare being also ranivorous (frog eating), and insectivorous (digesting insects, locusts etc.).

Feeding includes plunge-diving used by Brown Pelicans and Peruvian Pelicans or in groups by engaging in “cooperative fishing” to herd schools of fish into a center feeding area, a method used by the various White Pelican & other Pelican species.  Obviously successful survival hunting techniques for this whole bird group as Pelican fossils date back 40 million years.   Pelicans are sexually dimorphic (males are larger than females). Like most birds, both sexes having a very light skeletal structure weighing less than 10% of the their body weight.  These aquatic foragers have webbed feet, are strong swimmers and are very streamlined in flight.  Pelicans in groups are referred to as pods, scoops, or squadrons.  Pelican territory covers almost the entire world – found on all continents excepting for Antarctic (see: Pelican Species of the World).  CLICK HERE TO SEE ANIMAL WEBCAMS
Pelican reproduction is a joint effort with both parents participating in nest making and brooding.  Males are resourceful in bringing nest building material to the females who construct the nest.  Pelican nests are constructed on the ground, except for the Spotted Billed Pelican of Asia which nests in trees.  Pelicans have one brood per year with 2-3 eggs per clutch.  Pelicans are diurnal birds and both parents feed and care for the young usually bringing their “pouch catch” back to the nest so the young can dive in and feed.  It is amazing that Pelican chicks and other birds learn to communicate with their parents while still inside the egg.  Pelicans chicks are known to emit sounds from within the egg when they are too hot or cold! Establishment of this early vocal bond with their parents is an innate survival skill so upon hatching the baby Pelicans can immediately recognize their own parents through verbal communications.

TigerHomes does not currently house any Pelicans at the Sanctuary although they nest naturally in the surrounding Everglades.  This amazing species has withstood the test of time proving again that this fragile ecosystem is best left to care for its own.  For Pelican Conservation Status: see Pelican Island

As always, we hope you enjoyed this article featured as part of TigerHomes Sanctuary's continuing Educational Series. We also hope you will take this opportunity to visit our world renowned Animal Cams . You are invited to take your own snapshots and enter your pictures into our Viewer Gallery Contest for a chance to win monthly prizes! The SANCTUARY is a permanent home to Rare White Tigers, Golden Tigers, Bengal Tigers, Siberian Tigers, African Lions and Lemurs . Our residents are quite the characters and simply amazing to watch in their natural habitats. It is our Mission to preserve and protect these Endangered Species. You can help save Endangered Species right now by visiting our Gift Shop. Many animals of the Everglades can be seen first-hand in our TigerHomes Educational DVD Series, Florida's Wild Future.

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More on Florida Everglades:
Florida Everglades | Pictures of Florida Everglades | Map of Florida Everglades | Animals Florida Everglades | Marjory Stoneman Douglas | Everglades Endangered Species
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