California Brown Pelican
Quick and Cool Facts
The California brown pelican stays close to shore and hunts for its food usually within five miles of land. Occasionally, one may travel as far as thirty to forty miles when necessary . Another way they feed is by sitting on the surface of the water and scavenging for food. It scans the ocean for the reflections off of the silvery scales of schooling fish rely solely on the ocean as their food source for they are carnivores and love to eat anchovies (Engraulis mordax). In fact, it is estimated that annually, California brown pelicans off the southern California coast eat about one percent of the total anchovy biomass. During their breeding season 90%of the California brown pelican's diet consists of the northern anchovy. Generally, they feed on this northern anchovy, the Pacific sardine and the Pacific mackerel.
Brown pelican are asynchronous nesters.The nesting season historically began in March and extended through late summer or early fall, but in recent years has often surpassed 11 months. Normal clutch size is three eggs. The peak of egg laying is usually March or April; however, eggs are often laid through June. Incubation commences after the first egg is laid, and males and females share incubation duties.
Pelican breeding success is largely determined by the availability of their primary prey items, northern anchovies (Engraulis mordax) and Pacific sardines (Sagax sarinops), which during the breeding season comprise nearly their whole diet. Brown pelicans can be seen performing a surface plunge from as high as 20 meters to catch their prey. Abandonment of nests can occur in years of rapid reduction in food availability.
Brown pelican chicks are naked and helpless and are completely dependent on parental care and protection for the first three to four weeks after hatching. Both parents feed the young until they fledge. In California populations, chicks typically fledge about 13 weeks of age. A high percentage of post-fledging mortality is accounted for by the unsuccessful attempts of the young pelicans to feed themselves.
The federal government listed the brown pelican as an endangered species in 1970, the state of California listed it as endangered in 1971, and DDT was eventually banned in 1972. The fight to save these birds led to a remarkable recovery. The park's breeding populations have steadily increased since 1980 and this subpopulation is now believed to be fairly stable. On Anacapa Island from 1969-1984, average colony size was 900 nest attempts per year.Strong increases in both productivity and nest attempts were observed in the mid 1980s, and the Anacapa colony has produced a mean of 4,600 nests per year during 1985-2006.
Pelicans did not nest on Santa Barbara Island in recent times until 1980; the first significant nesting occurred in 1985. From 1985 to 2001, the colony produced a mean of about 770 nests per year. Starting in 2000, the pelicans started moving their nesting area around on the island.
Today, the pelican population on West Anacapa Island averages about 4,600 nesting pairs annually and on Santa Barbara Island the average is about 1,500 nesting pairs.
Nesting and roosting birds are very sensi¬tive to human disturbance. Pelicans are affected by ancillary fishing activities, including the presence of vessels, noise, and lights, near roosting and breeding areas. Increased light levels are known to alter the behavior of pelicans, leading to nest abandonment and increased egg and chick mortality. In 1999 large increases in nighttime squid fishing activity on park waters probably affected nesting pelicans - higher than average rates of nest abandonment and chick mortality were recorded and could not be explained by other environmental factors.
In 2009, the brown pelican was removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife due to recovery. This action was based on a review of the best available scientific and commercial data, which indicated that the species is no longer in danger of extinction, or likely to become so within the foreseeable future. The brown pelican remains protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
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