Endangered Species – The Brown Pelican

I’ve been a little busy so I haven’t had a chance to write a new post, but Endangered Species Day was on the 15th and I wanted to do something for it (even if I am a little late). I spent that morning bird watching for my ornithology class so it seemed fitting that I write about a bird I was recently able to observe that’s still considered endangered in North America: the brown pelican.

I spent the last few days of April and the first day of May in beautiful Ft. Myers, Florida. In addition to spending time on the beach freckling (an Irish girl’s version of a tan), I also went to a couple of wildlife preserves nearby.  When I returned home, I started looking up some more information on some of the beautiful wildlife I was able to photograph on my trip. Brown pelicans were numerous and I was able to get several great shots of them. So I was more than a little surprised to find out that they’re still endangered in North America. I wasn’t surprised to learn that a lot of that stems from the still lingering effects of DDT, an awful pesticide that has since been banned, allowing them to make an excellent recovery considering they were very near extinction. Despite its banning though, current pesticide use remains a problem for seabirds, including the brown pelican.

Brown pelican landing Brown pelican landing

The hotel I was staying in was right on a private beach, so I spent a good deal of time walking along the beach taking photos of all the birds. At the end of the private beach was a public park with a small wooded area that crept right up to the water. It was a fantastic spot to sit and watch the avian wildlife. In the photos above, I took a few shots of the first guy just chillin’ before his buddy showed up. They seemed content to sit there and enjoy the weather and I was certainly content to stand on the beach and watch the birds 🙂

A couple of times I was even able to watch a pelican off in the distance diving into the water for fish. The brown pelican is unique in how they hunt. They dive straight into the water, stunning the fish, and scoop them up in their large bills. If you ever get to see a brown pelican flying, it’s a pretty cool sight. They have a very distinctive bend to their wings as they glide through the air. In some of my landscape photos, I noticed birds flying at a distance and was able to identify which ones were pelicans by the bend in their wings, without seeing any other details of the bird.

black and white brown pelican
(c) Cyrene Krey

Flying PelicanLiving along southern and western sea coasts, brown pelicans aren’t seen inland very often. The one exception to this is the Salton Sea in California where they can be seen in large numbers. To avoid predators, they typically nest in colonies on islands. There are some differences in the appearance of brown pelicans based on their region. During the breeding season on the Pacific coast, adults will have red skin on their throats whereas on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, they will be smaller with greenish black throat skin.
Brown Pelican over blue waterWhile reading up on these guys, I read some interesting information about how hurricanes affect coastal and migratory birds. While birds are fine making their large migrations during good weather, hurricanes are another story. They might be forced off course in search of food and there’s a concern of hazardous materials spilling from the damage caused by the storm. Obviously birds have dealt with hurricanes for a long time. Unfortunately, by destroying much of their habitat and using harmful substances that can pollute their food and water sources, we’ve made natural occurrences much more challenging for coastal birds to deal with. It’s important that we take the steps necessary to protect their remaining habitat from destruction and pollution (and it’s good for us too, so it’s a double win!).two brown pelicansAfter diving for fish, brown pelicans need to drain the water from their bill. Sometimes while they’re doing this, other birds (such as gulls) might try to steal the fish straight out of their pouch, sometimes even while perched on the pelican’s head! Sadly, this was a highly amusing event I didn’t get to see on my trip. But you better believe next time I’ll be on the lookout for it! It was a great trip and I had a lot of fun. I really needed the vacation and seeing all the wildlife is definitely my idea of a great vacation! I’m looking forward to going again. Brown pelicans are beautiful and graceful animals and I’m thrilled that I saw as many of them as I did. It’s great that they’ve made such a fantastic recovery after their extinction scare. However, this doesn’t mean we get to slack off. If we continue developing their habitat rather than better utilizing the land we have already developed, and if we continue using and improperly disposing of harmful toxins, these incredible birds will end up in the same situation all over again. I hope every time I visit Florida, I’m inundated with shots of this stunning bird. Let’s make that a reality by not being stupid with our natural resources.

As always, these photos will be on my website (eventually ;p) for purchase. For now, feel free to view and enjoy what I’ve posted to the blog. I have a few other brown pelican shots that I’ll be sure to get edited and tossed up on my site in the next several weeks. I’m incredibly busy with school (which is, unsurprisingly, what happens when you try to graduate early), so a little patience will be required. But I will get everything up, I promise!


Pelican. Animals.nationalgeographic.com. National Geographic

Brown Pelican. Arkive, arkive.org.

Brown Pelican. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. allaboutbirds.org.