Plungers

Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis)

The Brown Pelicans we see here fairly often, and a distant Peruvian cousin, are the only members of the pelican family that practice plunge diving. The American White Pelicans we see here occasionally don’t do it. The Brown Pelican’s dive can take it down about 3 feet below the surface. When the bird hits the water it opens its pouch fully; it can hold more than 10 quarts of water, hopefully with a fish or two inside. It then raises its head, lets the water drain out, and gobbles the fish. It takes skill to feed this way; inexperienced juveniles come up empty much more often. Pelican parents need to feed each hatchling more than 100 lbs of fish to raise it to the point where it can fly.

The white neck and red pouch of this individual indicates that it’s an adult of the California subspecies finished with breeding. Can’t tell whether it’s male or female; males are a bit bigger and heavier than females but you’d have to see them side by side to distinguish them. It probably did its breeding in Southern California and is up here for the winter, but this is a time for roving and exploring and it may not stay long. Eastern pelicans have darker, duller colors.

Even though Brown Pelicans can spear fish underwater and have webbed feet perfectly adapted for paddling, they can’t stay on the water for longer than an hour without becoming waterlogged, which could keep them from taking wing. Unlike geese and ducks, pelicans can’t spend the night on the water, but must find a dry spot to roost.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

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