Pelicans Over La Poza Beach

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

A wonderful bird is a pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week;
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

By Dixon Lanire Merritt, 1910

The brown pelican is one of the best fishermen in Baja and watching these prehistoric-looking birds in action is pretty incredible. It is the only pelican species to dive for prey, zooming in from a height of 30 feet and streamlining its body and wings as it flings itself into the ocean like an arrow. The big beak pouch for which the pelican is so famous is used as a dip net to catch fish. But fish don’t stay there long – they are quickly transferred to the stomach (the center of gravity) so that the pelican can maintain balance while flying. Quick transference also helps prevent the likelihood that a gull will steal the fish, something that can happen if the pelican doesn’t swallow quickly enough. The brown pelican’s beak is capable of holding up to 3 gallons of water – about 3 times more than its belly can!

The Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is the smallest of the eight species of pelican, although it is a large bird in nearly every other regard. It is 106-137 cm (42-54 in) in length, weighs from 2.75 to 5.5 kg (6-12 lb) and has a wingspan from 1.83 to 2.5 m (6 to 8.2 ft). The brown pelican’s habit of diving for fish from the air distinguishes it from other pelican species that engage in cooperative fishing from the surface.  Watching a flock of brown pelicans flying low over the ocean in V-formation is one of the majestic sights of Baja.  They can fly at speed upwards of 30 miles per hour.

Fossil evidence tells us that pelicans have changed very little over the last 30 to 40 million years, perhaps accounting for their rather prehistoric look. Brown pelicans are hatched in broods of 2 to 3, and eat about 150 pounds of fish in the 8-10 month period they are cared for by their parents. Pelicans can live for up to 30 years.

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2012