by Kyle Sweet, Sanctuary Golf Club Superintendent
Key Identifiers: Gray-brown with yellow heads and white necks. Stocky seabird with a thin neck, long bill and large stretchy
An unmistakable bird of coastal waters, the Brown Pelican is a common site throughout the entire year in Southwest Florida. Whether it’s a close fly-by in your car on the causeway or a view of one flying low over the waves along the Gulf Coast, you’re sure to be able to enjoy this interesting, large bird.
As recent as the 1970’s, the Brown Pelican was seriously endangered but with the halting of use of pesticides that were endangering these and other bird species, they have made a remarkable comeback and now can be found from the coastal Carolina’s, along the entire southeast United states and upwards to central California. They inhabit the open ocean, salt bays and beaches but are mostly throughout shallow waters along the immediate coast.
The Brown Pelican forages by diving from the air, plunging into the water head first and coming to the surface with a fish in its expandable throat patch. With a toss back of its head, the captured fish is swallowed quickly. This specialized foraging technique provides for a pretty exclusive diet of fish with the occasional crustacean that may be within reach of a high-dive capture.
Pelicans nest on islands that are typically covered with mangroves, buttonwoods and other salt tolerant plant species. They can nest on the ground by just creating a scrape in the soil or they may pile a heap of debris with a depression at the top or go completely conventional with a stick nest in a tree.
They are strong swimmers and masterful fliers, often seen flying in a “V” formation or in a long line often just above the surface of the water. The “V” formation helps the birds conserve energy by utilizing the upwash of the bird in front of it, this means less wing flapping. Efficiency can be very important as they can easily fly over 100 miles a day.
Hardly a day goes by in our area that you don’t see a Brown Pelican. What might seem like a very ordinary bird is actually quite extraordinary. Like us, the Pelican enjoys the coast and without a doubt you’re to see one very soon!
Cool Fact: While the Pelican is awkward on land, it’s a beautiful and elegant flyer. They are known to fly low over the water, taking advantage of what’s called Slope Lift. These are light breezes reflected from the tops of waves.