Pelican Pileup

Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Distressing news reports from Southern California speak of pelicans suffering starvation there, due to disappearing fish schools in waters warmed by climate change. Here so far that doesn’t appear to be a problem. This past week saw several mornings when Brown Pelicans, and some American White Pelicans as well, came out in force to forage on fish accessible from the surface in very low tides. Linda Morris, the artist and long-time park visitor, captured this video of one of the bird mobs in the North Basin. This was not any kind of organized hunt. This was a free for all fish frenzy, with birds landing almost on top of each other. Note that almost all the feeding was by the shallow scooping method also used by the white pelicans, not the Brown Pelicans’ patented plunge dive method. The water was probably too shallow for plunging.

The event drew far more pelicans than shown in this short video. I was also there and did a couple of panorama videos of the whole area for counting purposes. I stopped counting at 150 birds. This was one of the largest pelican assemblies I have ever witnessed. It rivaled the great turnouts of last year: “Pelican Pond,” Jul 23 2021, “Great Pelican Pow-Wow” Jun 22, 2021, and “Pelicans Back,” Jul 10 2021.

It’s an open question whether they all got enough to eat. The action is too fast and chaotic to support a firm conclusion. Still, students with an interest in the issue could probably extract useful estimates from Linda’s video. Contact me for additional footage of this mass foraging event.

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