Brown Pelican - Florida

Florida’s Brown Pelican

If you are down here for the winter, one of the most distinctive birds you will notice while you are here is the Brown Pelican. The way they effortlessly fly just above the water or float just outside your car window as you drive over the Sanibel bridge.

We love our birds here in Florida. There are so many different types that make this their winter home as well, true snowbirds. Have you ever wondered about the Brown Pelican? Where do they build nests, what do they eat and are they friendly? This way the next time you are here paddle boarding with us around Sanibel Island you’ll know just a little more about this really cool bird. Heck, you might even impress your friends.

What does the Brown Pelican Eat?

Anyone that lives near the coast enjoys the variety of fish that are usually available. The Brown Pelican is just like us! They love fish which is their main source of food. If you get to spend some time watching these amazing birds catch fish its quite interesting. With great vision they fly high over the water looking for schools of Menhaden, Pinfish, Mullet are more. From a height of 60-70 feet it will spot the fish and dive bill first into the water. Once its comes back to the surface you will see it empty the water out of its pouch before swallowing their catch. This method of catching and eating fish means they will drink quite a bit of salt water. Brown Pelicans have high capacity salt glands that excrete salt making allowing them to ingest salt water.

Where do they build nests?

Brown Pelicans in Florida prefer to build their nests on small islands thickets, shrubs and especially mangroves. These nests are usually only 3 or so feet off the ground.  There is usually 2-4 eggs each season. Both the male and female take turns incubating the eggs for 28-30 days. Both parents also participate in feeding the young. The parents also guard the nest and the young to protect them while they are growing. Here on Sanibel some of the predators to the Brown Pelican brood includes Bald Eagles, Alligators, Vultures, Fish Crows and Raptors. Once the pelican reaches full grown the chances of it being attacked by these predators is less due to the large size of the bird.

Are Brown Pelicans Protected?

Back in the 1940’s the population of the Brown Pelican drastically declined. The main culprit was is inability to breed because of the use of DDT in the United States. In fact the bird was basically wiped out on the Gulf Coast. In 1972 the United States Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT usage in the United States. It took years but by 1985 the Brown Pelican numbers improved to the point that it was removed from the Endangered Species List. The bird is still protected today and cannot be hunted.

Take a minute next time you are here in Florida and look at our amazing birds. Even though the Brown Pelican has had some struggles over the years we are blessed to have so many of them back here in Florida for us to enjoy when you join us for paddle boarding.