California Brown Pelican Recovery
The Brown Pelican is not quite a Phoenix, raising itself from metaphorical ashes. But it has mythological parallels in the Bay Area, having recovered and arisen from near destruction more than once:
- In the late 19th century, plume hunters nearly wiped out pelicans and egrets, killing them for decorative feathers used in fashion hats.
- During World War I, over-fishing of sardines critically reduced this food source for the birds. Pelicans were further slaughtered by the thousands by fishermen.
- In the 1960s, persistent DDT in the food chain nearly decimated the last breeding pelicans off Southern California. And today, only an estimated 8000 breeding pairs remain.
You can read a detailed history of pelican struggle and survival in the IBRRC’s article In Harm’s Way.
Given the travails pelicans have faced for more than 100 years, I find it near miraculous to see hundreds off them fishing off the beach — as Hugh and I witnessed a few nights ago at Fort Funston. Their pterodactyl sihouettes are emblems of our natural past, almost anachronisms against the modern shadows of industrial cranes and skyscrapers. Their presence is, at once, a reminder of life’s restorative power and also its fragility.
At its simplest, pelicans are just awesome. Here are a few images I’ve snapped of Brown Pelicans in action around California.
Brown Pelicans at Redondo Harbor
Stretching and preening, these Brown Pelicans at Redondo Harbor in Southern California have an expansive seawall for lounging:
A Pelican and Her Gull
In this photo, a juvenile Heermann’s Gull swims alongside a Brown Pelican we watched fish near Point Arena in Mendocino County. Gulls like Heermann’s are known to scoot alongside the pelicans and actually swipe fish from the pelican’s pouch as the pelican drains the water. As we watched these two, they shared more of a symbiosis. The pelican almost seemed to be offering up her stores to the young gull who swam alongside throughout the fishing expedition. (I’ll grant you — that’s some anthropomorphizing on my part.)
Brown Pelican & Meals
Brown Pelicans fish by plunge-diving into the surf . . . sometimes from flight:
Pelican ingesting its meal:
I called this “The One That Got Away.” You can see the fish that leaped from the mess of seaweed in the pelican’s maw. (Click photo for larger size at Flickr.)
And . . . the ones who didn’t get away:
Pelicans and Cormorants
Pelicans hanging out with Cormorants off the shores of Tiburon in Marin County. In most areas where we find Brown Pelicans roosting around Northern California, we also find multitudes of Double-crested Cormorants — sometimes Pelagic and Brandt’s Cormorants off the ocean coasts.
Waiting for Handouts
A somewhat-habituated Brown Pelican awaits the arrival of fishing boats, in anticipation of freebies.