Brown Penguins.. I Mean Pelicans

I’m not typically much of a bird person, but brown pelicans are too brilliant to go unnoticed.  The trouble is I have a personal tick that finds me constantly calling the poor things “penguins”.  A small flock gathered at a port on the Banana River yesterday.  Brown pelicans do breed in Florida in the summer season and they change their plumage subtly to signal when they want to be parents.  This all-white neck plumage is the non-breeding form.  A saddle of dark feathers forms on the back of the entire neck if they’re in the mood for love. 

The truly interesting thing about their breeding season is that it runs completely countercurrent to the behaviors of other fish-eating herons and storks in Florida.  Many of these birds – like wood storks – breed during the winter when the weather is dry and wetland and pond waters drop perceptably.  This concentrates the fish stocks and makes it easier for the birds to catch a meal.

Perhaps, since the pelicans seem to feast primarily in the IRL estuary and the open Atlantic ocean, they don’t bother with noting small variations in the water level of these much-larger bodies of water. 

I dont often see pelicans flocking together in flight, but they can certainly form up into beautiful V-patterns when they wish. 

One other interesting thing about pelicans is the capacity of their bills.  About three gallons of water and fish can be held in the bill, and the water is drained off before swallowed down to the stomach, which can only hold about a gallon and a half of fishy material.

Final thought: pelicans are often found entangled in fishing line on beaches and in the coastal lagoons in Florida and elsewhere.  It is imperative that we take the time to clear the beaches and mangroves of monofilament.  If you find monofilament, dispose of it in the recycling tubes that dot Florida coastlines.  If you cant find any tubes, cut up the line into short segments that will prevent birds from being entangled when it ends up in the landfills. 

And, if you’re ever unlucky enough to actually snare a pelican while you’re out fishing, do not cut the line.  Reel the bird in and toss a towel over the poor thing to control the bill so that you can remove the line and hook without getting hurt.  This sounds a bit crazy, but it is definitely do-able.  I’ve helped in this instance before. 

If the hook and line are too far back in the throat, or too wrapped up in the animal for you to do anything, dial 411 and ask for the local wildlife hospital. 


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