A special place

"If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, it is a special place where I spend my afternoon."

Friday, October 12, 2012

'Big Bird"

    There's no doubt, the birds here aren't like the birds in Kentucky. "We're not in Kansas anymore Toto". The only bird that comes to the feeder, and reminds me of Kentucky, is the cardinal.
   I've come across a lot of different birds on the island and kayaking around the area. To write about all of them in the same post would be impossible. And I wouldn't be able to put up as many of my photographs! So when a certain bird gets my attention, I'll write about it. The brown pelican will certainly get your attention. 
"Old Blue Eyes"
    Brown pelicans are very cool birds. They're not all blue eyed like this one, and it doesn't have anything to do with gender. The males and females all look alike. But some of them have blue eyes and some of them have brown eyes. 
   Compared to what I'm used to up north, these are big birds. Turkey buzzards are the constant big bird in Kentucky! And they don't float on the water. Yet this is the smallest pelican of 8 species in North America. But these "small pelicans" can have a wingspan of up to eight feet.
     I can't imagine Florida without pelicans, but at one time, the brown pelican was an endangered species. The drastic decline was the result of using DDT, an agricultural pesticide. And until 1972, when DDT was banned in the United States, the brown pelican was in danger of becoming extinct.  DDT was used in the late 1800's to control malaria and typhus among civilians and the troops of WWII. After the war, it was made available as an agricultural pesticide.  It wasn't until the 1960's that the harm it did to the ecological wildlife was discovered. Fishermen also saw the brown pelican as a threat to the fishing industry and would shoot them for their feathers, and to protect their livelihood. But the prey brown pelicans go after is, for the most part, not commercially fished. Although, I've never seen them turn down the occasional mullet or sheephead in the bay.
    Today, the brown pelican is still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, even though they don't migrate. They're here all year around. I remember a few years ago when the winter months were extremely cold. St. George Island is far enough north that the temperatures can drop pretty low. But that year, the pipes were freezing along with the fruit trees. The brown pelicans really struggled and several of them died.
    But, now the population in the United States exceeds historical levels, and the main threats are overhead wires and abandoned fishing line.
     These birds will plunge from 75ft. into the water to scoop up their meals, sometimes becoming completely submerged. The brown pelican is the only species that fishes this way. The others fish off the top of the water. Naturally, in order to make this dive, it's believed they have the strongest feather of any other water bird.

"Coming in for a landing"

     They'll glide just above the water looking for a school of fish, make their assent, then come crashing down on their victim. Sometimes with success, sometimes not. They can hold up to three gallons in their pouch at one time.(their stomachs only hold one!) When they scoop up their catch, they'll drain the water from the sides of their pouches and  then swallow the fish.    
     Brown pelicans will nest in colonies and fly in groups. They look a lot like geese when they take up flying in the V formation. 
     Their nests here, on the island, are mainly on the ground. Because of their size, they're threatened by very few predators. They'll lay 2 or 3 eggs in March or April and a month later you'll have naked little brown pelicans. The unusual thing is that they don't use their whole body to cover the eggs. They just use their  big webbed feet to keep the eggs warm.
    And there's no generation gap with these birds. You'll see the adults hanging out with the younger ones around the oyster houses, waiting for scraps. Or just sitting on the tops of posts, enjoying the day. Rain or shine, they're just content to sit and do nothing. They don't get excited about much. Until it's time to eat! The young birds don't have the yellow on the top of their head so it's easy to tell which ones are the older ones
    This is not a bird you'll see inland or on fresh water lakes, but if you're out fishing with no land in sight, and you see a pelican, the shore is not more than twenty miles away. 

    I like the brown pelican.They're a laid back bird that pretty much gets along with everybody. They're as graceful in the air as they are clumsy on land. And I like the fact that they don't migrate anywhere. It's nice having them here all year round.

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