Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) in Puerto Vallarta
By Griffin Page
Naturalist ~ Eco-guide
few birds attract attention like Pelicans do. Soaring
high in the sky in flocks, forming a near perfect “V”
or diving abruptly within a school of fish. They are
As we sit quietly by the ocean, watching
their acrobatics, one can only be reminded of those
prehistoric birds, leaving us to ponder on what the
world was like back then. Their sheer size with their
wing span of around 6 ½ feet and the grace with
which they fly leaves us mesmerized.
Brown Pelicans are found from the Pacific
coast of the northern part of South America, Central
America up to the southern part of North America as
well as the Caribbean and the Galapagos.
Here in the bay, I doubt you’ll
find an area where they cannot be found. They are just
everywhere you look, perched on a fisherman’s
boat, a tree, a dock or just sitting there in the water,
floating near the beach.
have the largest gular sac (pouch below their beak and
from which the young ones feed) of all the pelecaniformes.
They build their nests in mangroves or in low coastal
bushes. Females will lay 2 to 3 eggs and both parents
will participate during incubation and feeding.
The fishing technique they use is a
difficult one for the juveniles and occasionally, once
on their own, some juveniles die of starvation for lack
of having mastered the technique. In order to feed,
the pelican will dive down amongst a school of fish
and open its beak just before they impact the water,
causing great quantities of water and some fish to accumulate
inside the gular sac. They also keep their wings somewhat
open and this may serve as a breaking system in order
to avoid going too deep and allowing them to fish in
shallow areas where small fish are more plentiful. The
tricky part happens when they close their beak, keeping
their head submerged and attempt to remove the water
by pushing the gular sack inward with their beak and
at the same time try to retain the fish.
different coloration patterns make distinguishing juveniles
and adults quite easy.
Juveniles usually have a grey face,
bill and feet with a darker brown body and lighter lower
body. Adults will have a grey / brown upper body, a
dark or almost black under body and a white neck. Adults
will also occasionally have a yellow patch on their
crown. During the reproductive season, sexually mature
adults will develop a dark rusty / brown line down the
length of the back of their neck.
Brown Pelicans are often seen congregating
along with Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Boobies as well
as sea gulls.
Have you ever seen a pelican take an
afternoon nap? I have and I included a photo for those
of you who haven’t. They can be seen resting on
a rock, laying low with their head tucked backwards
into their wings. Quite interesting don’t you
Nature is disappearing at an alarming
rate. Let’s all give a helping hand in keeping
our oceans and beaches clean. Let’s make sure
our mangroves and coastal environments remain populated
with these spectacular birds which we would dearly miss
should they one day disappear. They are not as yet threatened
and that is good but it is our responsibility to make
sure that they never are.
could be such a wonderful teacher if only we saw it
for what it really is” ~ Monachí