A Marvelous Bird is the Pelican. . . .

 . . . .His beak can hold more than his  ‘belican.’

     I am very happy to report that this big, brown shorebird with its famed beak-pouch that can hold whole fish, is no longer endangered!  Once nearly exterminated as a result of hunting and the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, the brown pelican has just been removed from the federal list of endangered and threatened species.

     “This is truly a success story that the whole nation can celebrate,” says Sam Hamilton, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director.  “We once again see healthy flocks of pelicans in the air over our shores,” adds Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

     The brown pelican, a resident of southern U.S. shores, was first declared endangered in 1970.  For years, it had been hunted for its feathers, and the widespread use of DDT had led to a build-up of the pesticide in ocean fish consumed by the pelican.  Many pelicans died from ingesting the toxic fish.  And the eggs of the pelicans who survived were rendered so thin-shelled by the DDT that they were crushed under the weight of incubating birds.

     Once DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972, brown pelican populations began to rebound.  By the 1990s, the brown pelican population had returned to pre-DDT levels.  Today, about 650,000 brown pelicans are flying, swooping, and swimming across Florida, along the Gulf and Pacific coasts, and in the Caribbean and South America.

     Even after ‘graduating’ from the endangered species list, the brown pelican will still receive federal protection through the Migratory Bird Act and a federal program that continues to verify that delisted species remain secure from the risk of extinction.

     The brown pelican is indeed a marvelous bird.  It captures fish by spotting them from the air and diving into the water to catch them.  The pouch under the bird’s beak serves as a net to scoop up the fish from the water.  After capturing a fish, the pelican rises to the water’s surface, points its  beak upward and swallows the fish whole. 

     The brown pelican is about four feet long, with a wing span of seven feet.  A graceful flyer and a strong swimmer, the pelican moves clumsily on land.  The pelican is long-lived;  the oldest recorded age for the bird is 43 years.  

     It is a particular joy to me to know that the brown pelican population is once again abundant.  Although I lived near the Florida coast from 1964 to 1974, I never in those years saw a single pelican.  Not until 2000 when I was back visiting did I see pelicans flying about the shore.  Now, nine years later, it makes me happy to think that the pelican population is truly thriving.–April Moore

photo by Arthur Morris

photo by Arthur Morris


an AP photo

an AP photo



photo by Rodney Cammauf

photo by Rodney Cammauf



photo by Tom Grey

photo by Tom Grey

3 Responses to “A Marvelous Bird is the Pelican. . . .”

  1. Chip Says:

    A marvelous bird is the pelican.
    His beak can hold more than his bellican.
    He can take in his beak
    Enough food for a week
    Although I’m damned if I can see how the hellican.

    Ogden Nash

  2. cynthia gurman Says:

    April this is lovely. Loved the pelican pictures and poem. I watced a Pelican parade last month.

  3. cynthia gurman Says:

    April, what a beautiful web site.

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