Summer is prime viewing for brown pelicans. They show up along the Oregon coast in the early spring and usually leave in October or November. Some birds occasionally over winter in Oregon, but they usually don’t do very well. A few winters ago some pelicans actually starved to death.
Brown pelicans breed during the winter in the Sea of Cortez. The brown pelican is a permanent resident of the coastal marine environment from central North America southward to northern South America.
They are superb fishers noted for their spectacular head-first dives to trap unsuspecting fish in their expandable pouches. Of the world’s pelican species, only the brown pelican feeds by this plunge-diving method, which makes them fun to watch. Despite being a superb fisher, the brown pelican isn’t above panhandling on local docks for scraps, however experts say that the majority of their food is caught rather than scavenged.
Their diet consists of fish and some marine invertebrates.
Brown pelicans are highly social year-round and breed in colonies of up to several thousand pairs – typically on offshore islands. Pairs build nests on the ground or in trees, depending on what’s available; they incubate eggs under their foot webs, and they feed their young regurgitated and predigested fish. When the young reach 3 to 4 weeks of age, they can swallow whole fish, which they obtain by thrusting their bills into their parents’ throats, forcing them to regurgitate.
The longest lived brown pelican on record died at 43 years of age.
So get out there and do a little pelican watching. They are pretty easy to find up and down the coast this time of year.
Great blue herons and great egrets
Coastal estuaries are host to two impressive birds this time of year, great egrets and great blue herons. Both herons and egrets are wading birds that prowl the shallows looking for fish, crustaceans and amphibians.
Great blue herons are the largest members of their family in North America with a wing span of more than six feet and standing as tall as 54 inches. Their grey, black and white plumage gives them a formal appearance, like they are wearing morning coats.
Also elegant in appearance is the all-white feathered great egret. With a yellow bill and black legs, it stands as much as 40 inches tall. The bird is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was formed in part to prevent the killing of birds for their feathers.