Common to St. John and along other coastal areas in North America, the American brown pelican is one of only two pelican species who dive for food. (The other is the Peruvian Pelican.) Of all eight species of pelicans, the brown pelican is surprisingly the smallest!
Majestic, graceful flyers, brown pelicans can be seen floating and diving for small fry along the shores of St. John. Brown pelicans target their prey fronm above and dive bill-first into the water, using their pouch like a collander to filter the water from their dinner. They are built for buoyancy, with internal air sacks under their skin and inside their miraculous bird bones.
In the Summer months on St. John, pelicans host the visiting laughing gulls, who are often annoyingly close by, looking to ungraciously grab a fish or two from the pelican’s haul.
Brownish-black in color, adult pelicans have a white head with a tuft of yellow. Lacking the yellow hue atop their head, juvenile brown pelicans have grayer necks and lighter colored underbellies. Interestingly, breeding pelicans will reveal a reddish color along the underside of their throughts.
Pelicans live in flocks and nest in colonies, typically in mangrove areas. The male brown pelican sources, selects and builds the nest to attract a female. Both parents look after the kids, typically born in sets of 2 or 3, who require care and feeding for almost a year before they leave the nest. Juvenilles begin to seek out their first mate at about 2-3 years of age. Monogamous only for the season, pelicans breed m in their lifetime. American brown pelicans live an average of 25 years. The oldest brown pelican on record lived to be 43!
Brown pelicans were federally endangered as recent as 1972. Endrin and DDT pesticide contamination led to instant deaths and genetically inferior eggs. Fortunately both were ultimately banned and populations of brown pelicans have since recovered.
Did you know… the American brown pelican is the state bird of Louisianna, despite having gone instinct in that state in the late sixties and being manually reintroduced over several years following the endangered species listing. While populations have increased, brown pelicans are unfortunately still at risk from hunters and fishnet entanglement.
During the Summer months on St. John, pelicans give up their guest rooms to the seemingly unappreciative laughing gulls. Visiting from South America, these bird cousins hang around from April through September.