A Brown Pelican -- Is it a Bird?

Posted By @ Jun 23rd 2011 5:00pm In: Educational

     Recently, I began thinking about brown pelicans -- mostly because of the property for sale at 420 Brown Pelican Dr. in St. Thomas Point. So, I asked my grandson, Wilson Antley, to do some research for me -- he then wrote the below post.     

photo of brown pelican on a post      For the newcomer to the South, especially for those from the northern states, the diversity of wildlife will be striking as compared to more temperate climates. Among the great number of yearlong bird residents in South Carolina is the Brown Pelican. The Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, is the smallest of the pelicans but still a large bird that can weigh up to 12 lbs. The Brown Pelican takes advantage of its highly specialized beak – one of the largest of all birds’ – to catch a variety of prey and makes them a successful and prolific species, especially in coastal areas like Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Hilton Head.

            Evolutionarily speaking, Pelicans in general are a very interesting type of bird for several reasons. Although there are only eight species of pelican and they are all very closely related, they are not closely related to any other species of bird and taxonomists are puzzled as to exactly what their closest relative is. Indeed, pelicans feed in a very unique way. They use the massive pouches in their bill to gulp up massive quantities of water, catching fish, amphibians, and crustaceans and swallowing them whole. Sometimes pelicans even hunt smaller birds that are swallowed as easily as the pelicans’ aquatic prey. This adaptation is so successful that pelicans are ubiquitous in temperate to tropical coastal areas worldwide.

            The Brown Pelican is even more specialized than its relatives, however. Unlike most pelicans that float on the waterphoto of group of brown pelicans on a rock and harass schools of fish, Brown Pelicans spot their prey from the air and dive to gain the speed to catch even the fastest fish. They can dive deeper than other pelicans as well, and thus Brown Pelicans are some of the most common birds on the Carolina coast. To anyone who appreciates the beauty of birds, the striking size, feeding habits, and abundance of the Brown Pelican will be a common enjoyment, especially for those who love the creeks, marshes, and coasts of the South Carolina area. The great number of Brown Pelicans in the area is most evident when they fly in huge flocks, which they commonly do. This is a fantastic sight that is a treat to see for any nature lover.

            Though DDT threatened the Brown Pelican in the 1970s, its numbers rebounded and it is now listed as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. However, some ecologists have worried about the effects of the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill on pelican numbers, especially for the pelicans around the Gulf of Mexico. Still, the other populations of Brown Pelicans are stable and in many instances rising. 


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Comments (2)

Liz Loadholt says...
on 06/24/11

Thanks Kim -- pelicans are among my favorite birds -- Our "farm" even has the name "Pelican Roost" because the children had chosen that name for the horse barn way back when ---

Kim Peasley-Parker says...
on 06/24/11

Lots of great information. Love to watch the pelicans catch their prey.

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