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Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)



Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Order: Pelecaniformes, Family: Pelecanidae

The brown pelican is the Louisiana state bird. Brown pelicans are dark and bulky, weighing from 6 to 9 pounds and measuring 4 to 4.5 feet long. The sexes have similar plumage. Their heads are white with a bit of pale yellow on the crown. They have long, gray bills, and their backs, rumps and tails are streaked with gray and dark brown. Their underside is blackish brown, and their legs and feet are black. Their eyes are pale yellow. Young pelicans have brownish-gray necks and white underparts.



I. DESCRIPTION:
  • The brown pelican is the Louisiana state bird.
  • Brown pelicans are dark and bulky, weighing from 6 to 9 pounds and measuring 4 to 4.5 feet long. The sexes have similar plumage. Their heads are white with a bit of pale yellow on the crown. They have long, gray bills, and their backs, rumps and tails are streaked with gray and dark brown. Their underside is blackish brown, and their legs and feet are black. Their eyes are pale yellow.
  • Young pelicans have brownish-gray necks and white underparts.
  • The brown pelican's bill is as long or longer than its head (this is true of all pelicans). The hooked bill has a huge naked skin pouch suspended from the lower half of it that holds two or three times more than the bird's stomach approximately 3 gallons of water and fish.
  • Pelicans hold their catch and then let the water drain from their mouths before swallowing. They never carry fish in their pouch, but in their gullet or esophagus. The pouch, besides acting as a dip net, also serves as a cooling mechanism during extremely high temperatures.
  • Pelecaniformes (pelicans, boobies, cormorants) are the only birds with totipalmate feet (e.g. feet in which all four toes, including the hind one, are united by a web of skin).
II. GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
  • Brown pelicans live only along the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts, north to Nova Scotia.
  • You can find them in all kinds of habitats on these coasts, but you'll rarely see them inland.
III. DIET:
  • Brown pelicans dive for fish from the air. Menhaden, a kind of fish often used for bait, account for 90 to 95 percent of their diet. They also eat pigfish, pinfish, herring, sheepshead, silversides, mullet, grass and top minnows, and they sometimes prey on crustaceans, usually prawns.
IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
  • Male pelicans have the job of finding a nesting site. Once they've got one, they perform an "advertising" display to attract females. After a pair bonds, they rarely communicate overtly.
  • Pelican nest mostly during March and April. They build their nests in colonies, either in trees, bushes or on the ground. Nests placed in trees are composed of reeds, grasses, straw and sticks; those on the ground consist of a shallow scrape lined with feathers and a rim of soil built 4 to 10 inches above the ground. Females lay two to three chalky-white eggs at a time.
  • Incubation lasts 28 to 30 days. Young walk out of ground nests approximately 35 days after hatching, but do not leave treetop nests until about 63 to 88 days for their first flight.
  • Pelicans are extremely social birds; they live in flocks of both sexes throughout the year.
V. SPECIAL NOTES/ADAPTATIONS:
  • Internal air sacks beneath their skin and in their bones make pelicans exceptionally buoyant, and as graceful in the air as they are clumsy on land. Pelicans fly in groups, with their heads held back on their shoulders and their bills resting on their folded necks. They sometimes fly in a "V" formation, but normally in regular lines or single file.



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