Brown Pelican is a sea bird, which is included in family Pelecanidae, genus Pelecanus. The Brown Pelican is unique among the eight species of pelican. Although it is a large sea bird, it is smallest among the other species of pelican. Also it is the only dark pelican and the only one that dives from the height into the water to catch its prey.
Brown pelicans are large and dark in color. They have a long bill with extensible pouch. LEgs are short and webbed. They have large wings and a short tail. Its size ranges in length from 106 cm to 137 cm, while its weight varies from 2.75 to 5.5 kg. It has a large wingspan of 1.83 to 2.5 m (6 to 8.2 ft).
Brown Pelican lives along the sea shore. They are found in south of Washington and Virginia to northern Chile. They also found on the mouth of Amazon River and on the island of Saut d'Eau in Trinidad and Tobago. The young birds may sometimes stay at the inland freshwater lakes. In winters, the North American brown pelicans moves towards further north for warm waters.
The bird is distinguished from other pelicans because of its brown body and its ability to dive into water from the air to catch the fish. The main food for brown pelicans herring-like fish. Brown pelicans travel in flocks, low to the water surface. These birds are colonial and nests on islands. They nest in on scrape on surface of a island or create a bulky stick nest in a low tree.
In the southeast United States and California, the birds were threatened for its existence due to the pesticides like DDT and dieldrin in the early 1970s. They were also threatened in Florida in that period. A research conducted by the University of Tampa shown that DDT causes the eggshell of pelicans to be very thin, which is not able to support the embryo to maturity. Because of which, DDT usage in Florida and other countries were banned. They were also protected by the 1918's Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
There are four subspecies of brown pelicans, which are given below:
The other two species Peruvian Pelican and Pelecanus thagus were also assumed as subspecies of Brown Pelican. But now they are classified into separate species, because they are larger and heavier than its other relatives.
- P. o. californicus (California Brown Pelican)
- P. o. occidentalis (Caribbean Brown Pelican)
- P. o. carolinensis (Eastern Brown Pelican)
- P. o. urinator (Galápagos Brown Pelican)
Pelicans warm their eggs with their feet. They stand on the eggs and hold it within feet web. This egg warming method made them susceptible for the effect of pesticide poisoning. As the pesticide DDT makes the eggshell thin, the parent bird often cracked their eggs by holding them under their feet.
Pelicans can live more than 30 years. The Brown Pelican has received a special status, as it is the state bird of Louisiana. Also it is on the mascots of Tulane University.