The first national wildlife refuge was established in 1903 to protect a colony of Brown Pelicans.
Brown PelicanPelecanus occidentalis
An unmistakable bird of coastal waters, famous for its huge bill with expandable pouch. Groups of Brown Pelicans fly low over the waves in single file, flapping and gliding in unison. Their feeding is spectacular, as they plunge headlong into water in pursuit of fish. Current abundance of this species represents a success for conservationists, who succeeded in halting the use of DDT and other persistent pesticides here; as recently as the early 1970s, Brown Pelican was seriously endangered.
Field MarksA ponderous dark water bird; adult has much white about the head and neck. Immature has a dark head, whitish underparts. Size, shape, and flight (a few flaps and a glide) indicate a pelican; the dark color and habit of plunging bill-first into water proclaim it as this species.
Size50" (125 cm); spread 6 1/2 feet.
VoiceAdults silent (rarely a low croak). Nestlings squeal.
RangeCoasts; southern United States to northern Brazil and Chile. Dispersal along coast within dash line.
MigrationAfter breeding season, flocks move north along both Atlantic and Pacific coasts. These birds return southward to warmer waters by winter. Small numbers of immatures regularly wander inland in summer, especially in Southwest.
HabitatSalt bays, beaches, ocean. Mostly over shallow waters along immediate coast, especially on sheltered bays; sometimes seen well out to sea. Nests on islands, which may be either bare and rocky or covered with mangroves or other trees. Strays may appear on freshwater lakes inland.
FeedingDiet: Almost entirely fish. Types of fish known to be important in some areas include menhaden, smelt, anchovy. Also some crustaceans.
Behavior: Forages by diving from the air, from as high as 60' above water, plunging into water headfirst and coming to surface with fish in bill. Tilts bill down to drain water out of pouch, then tosses head back to swallow. Sometimes scavenges and will become tame, approaching fishermen for handouts.
NestingFirst breeds at age 3 years or older. Nests in colonies.
Nest: Site is on ground or cliff of island, or on low trees such as mangroves. Nest (built by female, with material gathered by male) may be simple scrape in soil, heap of debris with depression at top, or large stick nest in tree.
Eggs: 3, sometimes 2-4. White, becoming nest-stained. Incubation by both sexes, roughly 28-30 days.
Young: Both parents feed young. Young may leave ground nests after about 5 weeks and gather in groups, where returning parents apparently can recognize own offspring. Young may remain in tree nests longer (perhaps up to 9 weeks) before clambering about in branches. Age at first flight varies, reportedly 9-12 weeks or more. Adults continue to feed young for some time after they leave colony. 1 brood per year.
ConservationDeclined drastically in mid-20th century, as pesticides caused eggshell thinning and failure of breeding. After banning of DDT, the species made a strong recovery; now common and increasing on southeast and west coasts.