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Birds of the Western Slope Oct. 4, 2017

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Photo by Evelyn Horn Brown pelican

Brown Pelican

Since the Festival at Steamboat Springs, it seems that all I think about is travel. And so I think of the marvelous trip to Aransas to the Whooping Crane Festival. At the festival there were "old friends" at their wintering ground and plenty of brand new birds! But one of the most exciting for me was the brown pelican. I know the American white pelican quite well since they breed inland and the other day Jim Wallace reported 75 at the Hart's Basin.

But when Karen Derrick and I went to Texas to see the Whooping Crane Festival, one of the "exotic" birds for me was the brown pelican. Our American white pelicans hunt for fish as a group. They will gather in tight formation and swim toward a barrier (like the shore line or a group of trees). When they get close enough, the fish will panic and try to swim away. But they are gobbled up by the pelicans. I've watched this feeding technique at our Hart's Basin. It's estimated that they can consume up to three pounds of fish a day!

In contrast, the brown pelican dives for its food. Sibley's Guide to Birds has a good drawing of the birds' technique. When the bird dives, the pouch serves as a fishnet. On surfacing, the bill is raised (to drain out the water) and then is turned downward to swallow the fish. Anchovies and prawns are the favored food. Interestingly, both birds feed the young regurgitant. Female browns don't breed until their third year and the males even later. The brown pelican's nest may be on a scrape on the ground or high up in a mangrove tree and I've seen pictures of these. The young that are born in the mangroves stay in the nest a long time (an estimated 65 days) while the young born to a ground nest stay only 35 days. And these birds may live up to 30 years.

We were told by a friend, that when we rode the ferry across to Rockport we could toss out food to watch the pelicans dive. Neither Karen nor I wanted to do that, but someone in a car behind us did. What a show! Also, we watched a group of American white pelicans at the end of the pier and a group of brown pelicans just across the way. What a thrill that was -- it's among my favorite scenes!

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