Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Elkhorn Slough, California
This image was among those selected and on display at Filoli Garden's 2014 "Bay Area Wildlife Exhibit".
Elkhorn Slough harbors California’s largest tract of tidal salt marsh outside San Francisco Bay with more than 200 different bird species using the slough as a resting spot during their annual migration. It is also home to a large number of sea lions, harbor seals and California sea otters.
A regular inhabitant is the brown pelican. This comically elegant bird has an oversized bill, sinuous neck and a big dark body. Squadrons glide above the surf along southern and western coasts, rising and falling in a graceful echo of the waves. They feed by plunging into the water, stunning small fish with the impact of their large bodies and scooping them up in their expandable throat pouches.
Brown pelicans are a living symbol of how successful wildlife conservation can be. In the mid-twentieth century the pesticide endrin killed pelicans outright, while DDT contamination caused pelicans to lay thinner eggs that cracked under the weight of the incubating parents. In 1970, brown pelicans were federally listed as endangered. Their plight and that of other species led to a ban on DDT in 1972 and a reduction in endrin use, allowing them to recover. The species reached pre-pesticide numbers by the late 1990s and was fully de-listed in 2009, less than a year before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill threatened Gull Coast populations anew.
Current threats include oil spills, and disturbance from human activity in coastal nesting habitats, which can cause panicked pelicans to abandon or accidentally destroy their nests. Abandoned fishing line also threatens this species along with many marine animals due to entanglement.
AvifaunaBirdsBrown PelicanCaliforniaElkhorn SloughMarshMoss LandingNatureNature ReservePelecanus occidentalisUnited StatesWildlife