Thursday, December 7, 2023

Florida Birds - Part 7 - Pelicans!

Gotta say, one of my favorite birds has to be the Brown Pelican.

These incredible birds look like they're left over from another age, and their bulky bodies make it look like they shouldn't be able to fly, but they do, and are incredibly agile in the air.

How do they manage with that giant bill?

I watched this one preen, taking oil from its uropygial gland at the top of its tail (seen below), and spreading it over each feather to add waterproofing.

This adult skims a few inches over the surface of the water. They barely need to flap their wings, but glide along seemingly without effort.

Apparently pelicans have good eyesight, which they use to scan for fish in the water below. They flew very close while I was on a beach and it felt like they were checking out everything, including me.

Here, a squadron comes my way. Intimidating!

Watching the pelicans go fishing at sunset was one of my favorite experiences. They would fly along the shore about twenty feet in the air, then suddenly twist and plunge into the water.


This is a Pterodactyl, right?

This research paper published in The Journal of Field Ornithology goes into the details of the method of the pelican dive, and explains how the birds must learn this essential skill.

At a distance, these pelicans look mostly drab, but up close, you can see they are quite colorful. I love the adult plumage with feathers that are contracting shades of gray, along with white head and neck feathers.

Immature birds are more all-over brown, like this one below.


These photos don't convey the size of the pelican's wingspan, which is about seven feet. Despite being a huge bird, the Brown Pelican is the smallest of all pelican species.

Here's a nice video that shows pelicans in action, elegantly flying and diving.
Brown Pelicans are extremely rare in the NYC area, but have been seen from time to time, as recently as 2022, so there is the possibility of seeing one in our area.

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