This photogenic male is rocking his colorful breeding plumage about a month early. He definitely stood out from the flock the other day in Port Aransas. Brown Pelicans are one of America’s greatest conservation success stories. In 1903, the precipitous decline in their numbers led President Theodore Roosevelt to establish Pelican Island, our country’s first wildlife refuge. When removed from the Endangered Species List in 2009 biologists estimated there were over 190,000 breeding pairs in North America.
While Brown Pelicans typically feed by diving into the water with a tremendous splash, thereby stunning small fish, I was treated to a less dramatic display. These pelicans were taking great gulps of water while floating in the shallows. After tilting their heads down to drain excess liquid from their throat pouch they tossed their heads back to swallow their catch. Gulls hovered nearby, hoping to take advantage of any escapees.