Thursday, April 28, 2011

Brown Pelican

The Brown Pelican is the only pelican that makes spectacular, head-first dives.  They are coastal birds that range from South America north along both the Gulf, Atlantic, and Pacific coasts of the United States. The species does not normally stray from the coasts, but sporadic inland records exist, even from Minnesota.  I took this photograph several years ago in La Jolla, California.

In North America, we almost lost Brown Pelicans to the pesticides endrin and DDT.  By 1963, Brown Pelicans, although the state bird, disappeared from Louisiana.  Populations were in serious trouble along the Pacific Coast.  In 1970, Brown Pelicans were added to the Endangered Species List.  After DDT was banned and edrin was restricted, pelicans recovered. In 1968 and 1969, Louisiana reintroduced Brown Pelicans from Florida; by the mid-1970s the birds were recovering. The success of these and other birds across the country was so vigorous that Brown Pelicans were taken off the Endangered Species list in 1985.  On the gulf, at least until the recent oil spill, Louisiana Brown Pelicans had recovered to pre-pesticide numbers (Shields 2002, Lowery 1981).  On the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of America, every year Brown Pelicans are increasingly seen in northern states.  

When seeing a Brown Pelican, I always recite Dixon Merrit's 1910 limerick (often erroneously attributed to Ogden Nash):

Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican!
His bill holds more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week.
But I’m darned if I know how the helican.

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