The Great Journey in Photography

About-The Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican take off

300mm f6.3 250iso 1/1,000sec

Every month or so I like to do an “about” post where I go into a little bit more detail about the behavior and photography tips for a specific bird. A few days ago I went rummaging through all my old post looking for the about post for the Brown Pelican to find some info for another project. Much to my surprise there is no about post for the one bird that I have photographed and studied far more than any other. Today I preset the Brown Pelican a bird that has been in existence since the time of the Dinosaurs.

Once on the brink of extinction in the 1970’s the Brown Pelican population dwindled to just a few thousand mostly due to the chemical DDT. DDT did not harm the birds outright but led to the females laying eggs with thin, fragile shells. They were put on the endangered species list in 1972 and since then have grown in numbers to over 650,000 and were removed from the list in 1988. Big Brown gets its name because it is the only Pelican that is not white in color, of course it is brown for the most part but in breeding plumage turns dramatic shades of red, green, orange, and brown. They are found on both coasts of North America in largest numbers toward the South. Here on the West coast most of the Brown Pelicans nest in Mexico, Baja California to be specific, with a select few breeding in the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara California. They are also the only Pelican that dives into the water to fish sometimes from heights of over twenty feet. Pelicans can hold over 2.5 gallons of liquid in their bill so all the others just sort of scoop up a bunch of water filtering out the fish and swallowing them. Browns are good-natured. You will rarely see them fighting or in competition and are fairly approachable to photograph. There is usually one in every crowd that you can get almost close enough to touch.

They very large bird by most standards often with a wingspan over 8 feet, but actually are the smallest of all Pelicans. By the way, there are a total of 8 different named Pelicans around the world. The largest is the Dalmatian Pelican of Greece that has wing spans up to 10 feet. Big Brown eats only fish, preferring menhaden, so you will only find them around large bodies of water and they are unmistakably a sea-bird with large webbed feet that literally walk on water for a short time when taking off. The very long bill and pouch are the most striking features of Pelicans and for the Brown, the most colorful. In breeding season you will see a green and red pouch with white, red and yellow bill.

Brown Pelican at Lajolla Cove

Next week-It’s all about photographing the Brown Pelican so check back in 7 days.

Until then, Caio.


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