Saturday, February 12, 2011

Studies of the Wildlife of Cedar Key: Birds: Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

Since I want to show the world "Cedar Key in My Eyes," I thought a study of some of the wildlife in the area would be in order here. Birds seems like a great place to start since there are so many interesting and exotic birds in the area, and Brown Pelicans are some of the most abundant of them in Cedar Keys.

The Complete Zoo Adventure: A Field Trip in a BookAccording to The Complete ZOO ADVENTURE by Mary and Gary Parker, "birds"
are feathered animals with forelimbs called wings whether they are used for flying (most birds), swimming (penguins), or display (running birds like the ostrich). Birds also have beaks and scaly legs, lay hard-shelled eggs, and maintain a high body temperature with help from their flow -- through lungs.
Birds were mentioned early:
Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” So the evening and the morning were the fifth day. ~Genesis 1:20-23
Brown Pelican

Though the Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, is Louisiana's state bird, it can also be found in abundance in Cedar Key, along with much of coastal United States, and other warm regions of the world. It is a common permanent resident of the Cedar Keys, breeding on Seahorse Key, which, incidentally, is also the site of the historical Cedar Key Lighthouse. On the Cedar Key, birds remain quite silent, but many boating visitors have been silenced at the incredible, and almost deafening, sounds coming from Seahorse Key as the birds yield their low grunts from their nests, which consist of large, flat nests of sticks lined with grasses and/or leaves on short trees, shrubs or the ground.

Speaking of nesting, in Catholic art, the pelican is often depicted for "charity" or "atonement," and as the mystic emblem of Jesus Christ, by "whose blood we are healed," because the pelican was believed to wound itself in order to feed its young with its own blood. According to,
The notion that pelicans feed their young with their blood arose from the following habit:- They have a large bag attached to their under bill. When the parent bird is about to feed its brood, it macerates small fish in this bag or pouch, then pressing the bag against its breast, transfers the macerated food to the mouths of the young.
Another interesting note while on the subject of nesting, unlike most birds, which warm their eggs with their breasts, pelicans incubate their eggs with their large, webbed feet. (All About Birds).

Large as it may be, the Brown Pelican is the smallest of eight different species of Pelicans, including the Amercian White Pelican, which I plan to discuss at a later time since it finds its way to the Cedar Keys in March each year. By the way, pelicans, themselves, are mentioned in the Bible, too:
  1. Psalm 102:6
    I am like a pelican of the wilderness;I am like an owl of the desert.
  2. Isaiah 34:11
    But the pelican and the porcupine shall possess it, Also the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. And He shall stretch out over it The line of confusion and the stones of emptiness.
  3. Zephaniah 2:14
    The herds shall lie down in her midst, Every beast of the nation. Both the pelican and the bittern Shall lodge on the capitals of her pillars;Their voice shall sing in the windows; Desolation shall be at the threshold; For He will lay bare the cedar work.
Unlike American White Pelicans with their co-operative fishing habits, and, although Brown Pelicans "often travel in single file, flying low over the water's surface" (Wikipedia), a Brown Pelican fishes for itself, diving, with its wings half folded, for its fish, after sighting its prey from the air. In fact, according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds, the Brown Pelican, "is the only dark pelican, and also the only one that plunges from the air into the water to catch its food." In order to eat its prey, the Brown Pelican takes in both fish and water during a dive, then the bird drains the water before finally throwing its head back and swallowing the fish. (Farrand). Gulls often try to steal the fish right out of the pelicans mouth while it is draining the water. (Cornell).

Pelican Trio

Adult Brown Pelicans, living to about 25 years, have whitish heads with brown bodies, while young birds have dark brown heads with whitish bellies. It had been thought that the dark brown on the hindnecks occurred only in adults during breeding season, but members at the Homossassa Springs National Wildlife Park have noted that the dark brown may or may not be present at breeding season, and may occur at varying seasons.

Brown Pelicans, as well as American White Pelicans, are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. But, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List has the Brown Pelican listed as "Least Concern" since 1988, though pesticides like DDT and dieldrin threatened the Brown Pelican population in the early 1970s by causing the "eggshells to be too thin and incapable of supporting the embryo to maturity." (Wikipedia). And, from the looks of things, Brown Pelicans seem to be thriving, at least in the Cedar Keys.

Brown Pelican

Cedar Key ... Where the Pelicans Play

Works Cited: A Searchable Online Bible in over 100 Versions and 50 Languages. Web. 12 Feb. 2011. .

"Brown Pelican, Identification, All About Birds - Cornell Lab of Ornithology." All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell University. Web. 12 Feb. 2011. .

"Brown Pelican." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 12 Feb. 2011. .

Farrand, John. "Brown Pelican." National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. New York: Knopf, 1994. 359. Print.

"Pelican" Infoplease. Web. 12 Feb. 2011. .

Johnston, David W. Cedar Key, Birding in Paradise: Finding Birds Then and Now. Gainesville: Bookends, 2009. 28+. Print.

Montei, Dave. "Inspiration Through Creation: The Pelican." Web log post. Let the Redeemed Say So! Web. 12 Feb. 2011. .

Parker, Mary, and Gary Parker. "Birds." The Complete Zoo Adventure: a Field Trip in a Book. Green Forest, AR: Master, 2007. 30. Print.

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