Birds – Brown Pelican

The following account of the manner of feeding of the Brown Pelican (P. occidentalis) is from the pen of Dr. Brewer: “Birds of this species are said to feed chiefly during the rising tide, wandering in extended trains along the shore, and diving occasionally, one after the other, when they meet with a shoal of fish. They are very regular in their motions when flying, keeping at uniform distances, alternately flapping and sailing in imitation of their leader. They usually fly very close to the surface of the water, and then merely plunge obliquely, holding the bill so as to scoop up the small fish sideways; then, closing their wings, they hold up the head with the bill down so as to allow the water to run out. This permits the escape of some of the fish, and gives the parasitic Gull a chance to obtain a share of the plunder, without in the least offending the dignified Pelican. Sometimes this bird dives from a considerable height, plunging downward with a spiral motion, although scarcely ever going beneath the surface, but immediately raising its bill from the water — usually with a stock of young fish in it. As a general rule this Pelican does not catch fish more than six inches long; but occasionally one weighing more than two pounds and a half may be found in its pouch.

Mr. F.M. Chapman in his ” Bird Studies with a Camera ” and other places has given an entertaining account of a visit to the breeding grounds of this species in the Indian River region of Florida, where they are now under government protection. He found many hundreds of nests containing either eggs or young in various stages of growth. The young were fed but twice a day, the old birds leaving at dawn for the fishing grounds, often many miles away, flying in the above-described regular manner, returning to the nests about eight o’clock. In feeding them they alighted by the side of the young birds, opened the bill and permitted them to help themselves. The old birds then bathed in the adjacent water, or preened their feathers while disposed in long lines on the sand-bars, or sailed for hours high overhead. By the middle of the afternoon they left for a second trip to the fishing grounds, “and after the resulting catch has been delivered to the clamoring young, the Pelican’s day’s work is over.”

Other species feed in a somewhat different manner. Selecting shallow water, they dispose themselves in long lines, at about equal distances apart, and regularly and systematically fish backward and forward until satisfied. I have observed the White Pelican (P. erythrorhynchos) doing this on the Yellowstone Lake in the Yellowstone National Park.

As may have been gathered from the above statements, Pelicans nest in communities, usually on an island. The nest is a very rude affair, consisting of a quantity of earth, gravel, and rubbish heaped together to a height of a few inches. The eggs vary in number from one to three or four, the former apparently being the usual complement. They are pure white, with the shell rough and chalky, and often blood-stained.