Brown pelicans are often seen perched on piers, pilings, boats and jetties around the Chesapeake Bay in summer. (Allan Paquette/Flickr)
The brown pelican is a large, dark-colored water bird that lives along the shores of the middle and lower Chesapeake Bay during summer.
Adults mostly dark all over the body
Chestnut and white on the neck
Pale yellow forehead
Juveniles have a brown head and back with whitish underparts
Large, grayish bill that is 9-15 inches long
Elastic throat pouch underneath the bill
Grayish-black legs and feet
Adults grow to about 50 inches with a wingspan of about 6 feet, and weigh 8-10 pounds
Lives along beaches and shorelines near shallow waters
Rarely found more than 20 miles out to sea or inland in fresh water
Often seen perched on piers, pilings, boats and jetties
Visits the middle and lower Chesapeake Bay in summer
Feeds primarily on fish such as menhaden, herring, sheepshead and silversides
Eats up to 4 pounds of fish per day
Hunts by flying high above the water to find a school of fish, then diving head-first into the water to catch its prey
After catching a fish underwater, pelicans hold it (and a lot of water) in their throat pouch. Once they surface, pelicans point their bill downward to allow the water to drain out and then tilt their bill upward to swallow the fish.
No natural predators
Biggest enemies are humans, who have decimated pelican populations in the past
Flocks fly in a long, straight line or a V formation. Pelicans synchronize their wingbeats and gliding.
Sometimes flies low over the water’s surface, almost touching it with its wingtips
Flies with its neck folded and head resting on its back
Adults are silent, with a rare low croak
Reproduction and Life Cycle:
Breeding typically begins at age 3-5 years
Nests in large colonies on the ground, in bushes or in the tops of trees
The male brings nest materials to the female, who builds the nest
Females usually lay 2-3 chalky white eggs between March and May
Parents share the responsibility of incubating the eggs and raising the young
Unlike most birds, pelicans incubate their eggs with their feet
The eggs hatch in about a month
Pelicans are born blind, featherless and entirely dependent on their parents
First flight usually occurs around 75 days old
The brown pelican is the smallest pelican species in the world.
Brown pelicans have excellent eyesight, giving them the ability to spot schools of fish from high up in the air.
A pelican’s throat pouch can hold up to three times more than its stomach.
Brown pelicans are very strong swimmers. Young pelicans have been tracked swimming 3 miles per hour before they are even able to fly.
The use of the pesticide DDT in the mid-20th century caused populations of brown pelicans and other birds, including ospreys and bald eagles, to decline significantly. After DDT was banned in 1972, pelicans began to thrive again.