Look Up: In flight

I took this photo from Anglins Fishing Pier in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, on a very windy day.  I had ample time to capture the shot because the pelican was hovering, trying to fly into the wind.

This is a brown pelican.  He (or she) is looking a bit dark due to the lighting and the angle.  Here are a few photos that didn’t involve looking up:

The brown pelican is one of the smallest of the world’s seven species of pelicans.  It is unique in that it is the only dark pelican as well as the only pelican that dives from the air into the water to catch its food.  They sight their prey from up above and plunge into the water head first to capture the fish.  The water is drained out of the bill, and then the pelican swallows the fish.  While the pelican is draining the water, it is not uncommon for gulls to try to steal the catch from the pelican’s pouch.  Pelicans are not innocents, though.  They will gladly steal fish from other seabirds.

The brown pelican is a coastal bird that breeds primarily on islands, nesting in colonies with herons and other waterbirds.  They incubate their eggs with their feet rather than warming them against the skin of their breasts like other birds.  The eggs are held under the stretched webs of their feet, essentially making the parents stand on the eggs.  This made the eggs vulnerable to the effects of DDT which made the eggshells thin and easy to crack when the parents stood on them for incubation.  The use of DDT in the U.S. was discontinued in the 1970’s.

The brown pelican, as you may have all heard by now, is the state bird of Louisiana and is possibly in danger from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  So far two oil-covered birds have been rescued.  One was a brown pelican.  If interested, you can read a little about some of the wildlife at risk from the spill here.