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Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis

Though large, Brown Pelicans are the smallest pelican species. Populations once threatened by use of pesticides (DDT), have recovered since this chemical was banned in the early 1970’s.

The Brown Pelican forages by diving from height and plunging into the shallow water where their impact stuns the prey. These birds have learned to turn their head to the left on impacting the water to protect their necks from injury.

Sailing low over the coastal waters, often in lines of a a dozen or more birds, the graceful rise and fall over the waves is a beautiful sight. These formations help their effortless flight by reducing the drag for the trailing birds. It is no accident that these formations synchronize to the waves. As the wind passes over the waves, lift is generated allowing the birds to remain aloft with little or no wing beats.

Science recognises five subspecies of Brown Pelican; californicus (western North America), carolinensis (eastern North America), occidentalis (Caribbean), murphyi (Colombia and Equador), and urinator (Galapagos).

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