California Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) were removed from the Endangered Species list in 2009. The most recent population estimate is 70,680 breeding pairs. The majority of the subspecies breeds in the Gulf of California, Mexico; 15-20% of the population breeds at the U.S. Channel Islands.
Brown Pelicans are large birds. Adults weigh up to 11 pounds. Their wingspan is up to six and a half (6.5) feet.
Because they are waterbirds, they have webbed feet. You can spot them flying inches above the water, skimming for fish. When they find their prey, they make spectacular headfirst dives into the water to catch the fish. They have long bills with big pouches for catching and holding the fish. In California, they feed on sardines, mackerels and anchovies.
This bird was photographed in breeding plumage at La Jolla Cliffs in California. They are quite spectacular to look during breeding season.
Pelicans are lucky in that they have few predators. Occasionally a shark will leap out of the water to take a low-flying pelican, but mostly they have to look out for their young. Pelican eggs are a sought after by other birds, raccoons, cats and even dogs.
I love to watch Brown Pelicans fly low over the waves in single file, flapping and gliding in unison. If you get the chance to go to the central or south central California coast, be sure to spend some time watching these incredible creatures.
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Scott Bourne is an Olympus Visionary, a professional bird/wildlife photographer, author and lecturer who specializes in birds. He is a pioneer in digital photography and was named one of the “30 most influential photographers on the Web” by Huffington Post. His photographic experience spans four decades and his bird/wildlife images have been published in more than 200 magazines and periodicals. He is also a Signed Master at Studio of Masters in China.
Scott has been a founder, co-founder, advisor or early stage investor in several technology companies such as NetRadio, Photofocus, and ViewBug.