By Dr. Madeline Kalbach
For the Observer
During the summers I anxiously await the return of brown pelicans from their summer breeding areas in southern California and Mexico. After their breeding season is over they generally come northward to feed. As we know birds and animals, in general, tend to follow their food sources. It is speculated that the brown pelican is/was moving north because the food sources in its breeding areas declined. They seem to be arriving later and later on our coast and on the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and are also fewer in number than in previous years. Does this mean that their food source here is beginning to wane or could it be that there has been a substantial increase in their favorite small fish such as menhaden, mullet, anchovies, herring and sailfin mollies in their breeding areas? It is anyone’s guess!
These prehistoric looking birds are quite agile. When flying together in tandem, the flock looks like a squadron flying up and down with the waves on the ocean. The pelican is quite an entertainer, especially when it is feeding. It hunts fish from very high up in the air. Upon seeing its prey, it plunge-dives all the while twisting and turning its body as it plummets into the water to capture a small fish. It is the force of the impact that stuns the small fish so the bird can easily scoop up the tasty morsel.
Recently a number of pelicans put on quite a show at the mouth of the Columbia River where a ball of bait fish materialized. They were close to shore and accompanied on stage by double-crested cormorants and various species of gulls. I tried to capture their antics on camera. A portion of the photo series I took is included here.
It pays to look for this magnificent prehistoric looking bird as it glides with its squadron over the water or dives from on high for its lunch. The show is amazing! The adult brown pelican has a large, dark body and a huge bill with a distinctive large pouch. You can’t miss it! Now is the time to look for it!