Did you know…brown pelicans?

Dec 24, 2017

During my teenage years, my family moved from New Orleans to Slidell, Louisiana, which is located on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. We still made several trips into the city to visit with friends, attend mass at St Jude’s on Rampart Street, and enjoy restaurants. My father’s business was located in New Orleans East so we would make the trek across the “twin-span” bridge each day during the summers when I worked for him.

To keep myself entertained during these trips across Lake Ponchartrain, I would watch for brown pelicans whose scientific name is Pelecanus occidentalis. These large birds captivated my attention by gracefully flying inches above the surface of the water, sometimes alone and sometimes in a small “V”-shaped formation. Their fishing tactics were amazing.

Did you know brown pelicans catch their food by diving head first into the water, a unique and seemingly dangerous method?

Pelicans dive head first into the water to catch their prey. Their forceful water entry stuns small fish, which the pelican then scoops into its oversized bill. Just before they hit the water, at nearly 40mph, the pelican folds its wings along his back and contracts the muscles along its neck and spine to protect them from injury. They fill air sacs along their bellies and back to create a life preserver preventing them from going too deep under the surface of the water hence avoiding accidental drowning.

The most magnificent physical feature of a brown pelican, in my opinion, is its long, graceful beak. The pelican’s beak cuts through the surface of the water like an elegant knife through softened butter. The capacity of its pouch is amazing! It can hold three-gallons of water, which is much more than the capacity of its stomach.

Did you also know brown pelicans are the official state bird of Louisiana?

Pelicans are a fixture in the Louisiana landscape. These majestic birds have captured the hearts of Louisianians. So much so, in fact, that they garnered a permanent place within the Louisiana government. In 1804, its image was affixed to the official State seal. Later, in 1912, the state legislature decided to have a pelican prominently placed on the Louisiana flag. Our flag proudly depicts the image of a pelican feeding three hatchlings each representing Union, Justice, and Confidence. You will find the same image on the State seal and the State flag. Finally, in 1966, the brown pelican was officially designated as Louisiana’s state bird.

The next time you take a drive in south Louisiana, especially across Lake Ponchartrain, keep an eye out for brown pelicans. You too may be amazed at their majestic flight and daring fishing tactics.

Resources:

https://www.lacoast.gov/new/Ed/Articles/BrownPelican.aspx

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfEboMmwAMw

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown_Pelican/lifehistory#

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