Endangered Brown Pelicans in Tucson, Arizona – birds off course, Brown Pelican facts

Why are Brown Pelicans and California Brown Pelicans,  endangered?  Are Brown Pelicans,  Pelecanus occidentalis, still on the endangered species list?  Today in Southern Arizona, myself and my two dogs spent the day with two Brown Pelicans.

pelicans blown off course in Arizona

Brown Pelican at Lakeside Park in Tucson, AZ

According to the LA Times, these odd looking large Brown Pelicans were nearly driven to extinction because of abuse from hunters and fishermen.

Thousands of Brown Pelicans were slaughtered a century ago by hunters who coveted its plumage and commercial fishermen who believed pelicans were gobbling too many fish. The Brown Pelican was also hurt by the effects of  a chemical pesticide, DDT which damaged the eggs of pelicans.  These suffering  brown pelicans were placed on the federal endangered species list. 

Brown Pelicans in southern Arizona

The Louisiana state bird, is the Brown Pelican, which did make a recovery, only to suffer again from the coastal damage incurred from the oil spills.

Louisiana state bird pelican

Pelicans suffer from the oil spill

During the oil spill in 2010, this whole area was covered with oil, said P.J. Hahn, coastal zone director for Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana.  The brown pelican was particularly at risk because it dives beneath the water’s surface to forage. Not only could pelicans eat tainted fish and feed it to their young, but their feathers could become oil soaked, causing hypothermia or drowning.

P.J. Hahn continued to say, The erosion on one of the islands is dramatic:  the nesting area is down to less than a half an acre. Part of the problem is – when there is not enough land, pelican eggs are ending up in the water. Those will never hatch.

The Brown Pelican finally came off the endangered species list in 2009,   Now, there is a growing fear history could repeat itself, because there is not enough habitat for the birds to nest.

volunteers aid the Brown Pelican during an oil spill

(above photo courtesy of http://www.latimes.com/  Los Angeles Times)

Dedicated teams worked diligently to save the brown pelicans after BP’s massive oil spill.

How privileged I was to photograph this noble Brown pelican in flight, right here in Tucson, Arizona. An amazing sea bird spreading its wings wide to brake before landing.

Pelican birds at Lakeside Park in Tucson, AZ

Pelicans blown off course and land in Arizona

This may be one of the only times I can experience the activities and witness behaviors of a brown pelican bird trying to keep its place on our planet.

If you see Brown Pelicans in Arizona PLEASE Call AZ Game and Fish at 520-290-9453 and let them know.

The Brown Pelicans long Neck and Bill are pictured above and below.

endangered brown pelican birds in Arizona

Brown Pelicans have a long bill

Brown Pelicans have an extremely long bill with a large pouch attached on the lower half.  The pelicans pouch is used to catch fish.

The pair of Brown Pelicans stand close as if to have true admiration for one another.

Brown Pelican Facts:

One of the most prominent factors to observe for this large pelican, also called the California Brown Pelican, is the way it forages for food.  It dives beneath the water surface.  Pelicans simply catch the fish in their pouch, drain the water out and swallow the fish immediately.  Look below at the pictures I took of the Brown Pelicans diving in the water with their large pouches.

Brown Pelican getting fish

Pouch of the Brown Pelican

To watch the two Brown Pelicans effortlessly fly, gallantly dive, methodically fish, and fearlessly eat was one of the highlights of my year.

Lakeside Park lake in southern Arizona contains catfish, trout, bass and sunfish, which we now know can be added to the Brown Pelican diet.  Brown Pelican birds are the only pelican to plunge dive to catch their prey, other species of pelicans fish from the surface of the water.

These Sea Birds can effortlessly glide low over the water – so low their wingtips often brush the waves – with occasional slow, powerful wing beats to gain speed.

The picture below shows the brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican can be over 7 feet wide!

The Brown Pelican’s wing span can reach 7 feet

Brown pelicans can be seen performing a surface plunge from as high as 20 meters to catch their prey.

brown Pelican

Adult Brown Pelicans are generally silent when they are away from the breeding colony but when they do vocalize they have low, hoarse calls.

Quick and Cool Brown Pelican Facts

  • Young pelicans feed by sticking their bills into their parents’ throats
  • Pelicans build large nest structures on the ground, in trees, or on vegetation
  • The nesting season can extend from January through October
  • Brown pelicans normally lay three eggs and the adults share incubation duties
  • They can dive from 60 feet in the air
  • Brown pelicans can live up to 40 years old
  • A pelican’s throat pouch can hold over 2 gallons of water

Brown Pelican getting ready to land

In winter months, breeding pelican adults gain a dramatic plumage.  From the fossil record, it is known that pelicans have been around for over 40 million years.  The Brown Pelicans live on both coasts in the United States.

amazing flight for this brown pelican pictured here

In flight they hold their head back on their shoulders and they rest their bill on their folded neck. They usually fly in regular lines or in single file.

Pelicans are gregarious and nest colonially, the male bringing the material, the female heaping it up to form a simple structure.

Pairs of Brown Pelicans are monogamous for a single season but the pair bond extends only to the nesting area; away from the nest mates are independent.

Pelicans blown off course in Tucson

Brown Pelicans in Arizona

According to the National Park Service of the United States Dept of the Interior – the only breeding colonies of California brown pelicans in the western United States are on West Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands in California.

Lakeside Park in Tucson, Arizona migratory birds

Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret

Brown pelicans are residents in much of their breeding range. After breeding, flocks move north along both coasts.  Brown pelican chicks are naked, helpless and completely dependent on parental care. Both Brown Pelican parents feed their young until they fledge.

What does fledge mean?  The young bird produces feathers that are large enough for flight.  The young Brown Pelican will be able to fly.

Great White Egret Great Blue Heron Brown Pelican

Nesting and roosting birds are very sensitive to human disturbance, load noises from boats etc…  Is it possible to provide simple education regarding the Brown Pelicans or migratory birds in general for the fishermen with boats?

Radio Controlled boats are a fun hobby.  Could signs be posted with information regarding Migratory Birds?

RC boat driven around the Brown Pelicans

Nest disturbance is the biggest reason for a bird to abandon its nest. If a bird feels threatened by another animal or human it will leave.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to tamper with, or destroy ACTIVE nests of native wild birds. If there are eggs or babies – you cannot touch the nest or harass the birds in any way.

crowding the Brown Pelican at its roosting area, one of the birds is sleeping

In the US, all native migratory birds are protected under federal law – Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/RegulationsPolicies/mbta/mbtintro.html

taking your dog to the nesting area of all the birds

The photo above of a person bringing their DOG to an area that could be the NESTING area for Birds including the Protected Brown Pelicans, it is disturbing to say the least.

A number of birds get off course from Arizona Monsoon storms and end up in small Tucson Lakes.

If Brown Pelicans have nested on the ground, the chicks are able to leave the nest when they are around 35 days old, but if the nest is situated in a tree or bush the chicks do not leave the nest until they take their first flight at 63 – 88 days old.

Brown Pelicans reach sexual maturity at 3-5 years of age.  Adult Brown Pelicans have few natural predators.

the brown pelican and his duck friend

 The United States Fish and Game Service 

here is an excerpt from the MONITORING PLAN FOR THE BROWN PELICAN Pelecanus occidentalis dated August 2009

The Service believes that the brown pelican should be monitored for 10 years, although
the Act has a minimum requirement of 5 years. As discussed in the Background section
of this PDM, the brown pelican is a long-lived species, and some individuals do not begin
breeding until 5 years of age. Also, the brown pelican may undergo major changes in the
number of nesting pairs and productivity from year to year in response to changes in prey
availability and environmental conditions. The 10-year monitoring period is necessary so
that more than one generation is included and to provide sufficient time to determine if an
observed decline in nesting pairs is within the range of natural variation or indicates a
serious concern for the status of the species.

Lakeside Park in Tucson with pelicans

Great Blue Heron and Brown Pelican

Migratory roosting birds in Arizona

Great Blue Heron and Brown Pelicans at Lakeside Park in Tucson, AZ

A Pair of Brown Pelicans and a Great Blue Heron roosting at their little Tucson, Arizona island.