Arizona Parks

Migrating birds fly off course – Brown Pelicans in the desert?

We were privileged to document the noble Brown Pelican landing at Lakeside Park in Tucson. This impressive sea-bird extended its wings (almost 8′ wingspan) to brake before alighting on the water.

migrating birds in arizona

brown pelican in Tucson Arizona

Various migratory birds wind up off course due to bad weather and end up in Arizona lakes.

birds off course in arizona

pair of pelicans at Lakeside Park

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

endangered birds in arizona

Brown Pelicans have a long bill

Lakeside Park migratory birds

Pelicans in the Sonoran Desert

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

Hunters coveted its plumage and commercial fishermen believed pelicans were gobbling too many fish. These sea birds were also hurt by the effects of a chemical pesticide, DDT.  It is no wonder brown pelicans were placed on the federal endangered species list.

Louisiana’s state bird is the Brown Pelican.  This bird started to make a recovery, only to suffer again from the coastal damage incurred from the oil spills.

Louisiana state bird pelican

Brown Pelicans damaged by the oil spill

During the oil spill in 2010, this whole area was covered with oil, said P.J. Hahn, a coastal zone director in Louisiana.  The brown pelican was particularly at risk because it dives beneath the water’s surface to forage.

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

brown pelican bird

Volunteers helping the Brown Pelican during an oil spill

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

Are Brown Pelicans, still on the endangered species list?

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.

migratory birds in the desert

pair of brown pelicans in Arizona

One of the most prominent characteristics 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.

pelicans in the desert

Brown Pelican plunge for fish

sea birds in arizona

Large pouch of the Brown Pelican bird

Watching the Pelicans effortlessly fly, gallantly dive, and methodically fish was one of the highlights of our year!

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

Brown pelicans in the desert

Lakeside Park migrating birds – pelicans

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.

wing span of brown pelican bird

Brown Pelican’s wing span can reach 7 feet

They can be seen performing a surface plunge from as high as 20 meters to catch their prey!

pelican birds in tucson phoenix

Brown Pelican dives to collect fish

Click below to watch a short video of Brown Pelicans diving for fish:

In flight, the Brown Pelicans hold their head back on their shoulders and rest their bill on their folded neck.

pelicans in tucson lakes - lakeside

Brown Pelican amazing flight and wing span

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

From the fossil record, it is known that pelicans have been around for over 40 million years.  Brown Pelicans live on both coasts in the United States.

Lakeside Park pelican heron egret Arizona

Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret

Nesting and roosting birds are very sensitive to human disturbance, load noises from boats etc…  Nest disturbance is the biggest reason for a bird to abandon its nest. 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.

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

migrating birds in Arizona

Great Blue Heron and Brown Pelican at Lakeside Park

Quick 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

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

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