Foam Lake Birding No. 62

No. 62
One of the birds that I really enjoy watching around here in coastal California is the Brown Pelican. It is a ponderous turkey sized brown bird that occurs along both coasts of North America from Mexico to Canada (southern BC only). World wide there are only eight species of pelicans two of which, the Brown and American White, occur in North America. The Brown is a bird of sea coasts while the White is an inland bird that prefers fresh water. Both will occasionally stray from their usual habitats especially in winter.
There is very little to say about pelicans in the way of description. It really cannot be mistaken for anything else. The defining characteristic of a pelican is its very large bill which it uses to catch fish in water. The Brown Pelican glides gracefully, usually in short lines of several birds, low over the waves and then dives down head first into the water to catch a fish. Its bill has a huge stretchable pouch under the lower mandible that holds the fish and up to a gallon of water (by some accounts). When the pelican comes to the surface, it holds its bill downward and lets the water drain out retaining the fish inside the bill to be swallowed later. It is at this time that gulls often harass the pelican in an attempt to force it to give up its catch. Occasionally, the tactic succeeds.
The young are raised by both parents. The adults catch prey in the ocean and then fly some distance inland to their brood. Like most sea birds, pelicans nest in colonies. In the minds of humans, most young birds and animals are very cute and cuddly. Who can resist cuddling a duckling or a puppy? For reasons right or wrong, it was this human trait that anti sealers used to turn people against the annual seal hunt by showing cute and cuddly seal pups being harvested. In this same vein, young pelicans have got to be the ugliest babies possible. They are large billed, naked and awkward with eyes that appear to be on the top of the head. Overall, they seem to be something out of a Jurassic Park movie. However, I am sure the parents think otherwise.
Not only can Brown Pelicans be easily observed flying over the water and feeding, but they are quite trusting of humans and often sit on posts, buoys, docks and even moored boats providing good views. Getting a picture of one is not hard. Males and females are the same. They are usually silent so, unlike gulls and terns, they do not make any noise letting one know that they are present, but their size and tameness more than make up for it.