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Long Caye Wildlife: The Caribbean Brown Pelican

By Slickrock Adventures on January 3, 2012

Caribbean brown pelican

There are a total of 6 species of Brown Pelican across tropical North and Central and South America. Caribbean Brown Pelicans are daily visitors to our island at Glover’s Reef. The adult Caribbean Brown Pelican is a large grey-brown water bird with white about its head and neck. Immature birds often have darker heads which lighten as they mature.

Full grown adult Caribbean Brown Pelicans, although the smallest of the Pelican family, are still relatively large birds and can reach up to 8 pounds; larger individuals have wing spans of over 7 feet.

Birding in Belize-pelicans

In adult Pelicans plumage plays a significant role in communication. During the breeding season, prior to nesting the back of the neck becomes a brighter brown-red color. The remainder of the year mature Pelicans have mainly white heads and necks. Young birds take approximately 3 years to gain their adult plumage.

Hey breed from March to November. The Caribbean Brown Pelican begins nesting between May and August, with the peak nesting season in September through November. The islands off the coast of Belize provide a perfect protected habitat for nesting Pelicans. Nests are often built in mangrove trees over or near the water. A typical clutch will consist of 3 eggs, the male and female share the brooding of the chalky white chicks.

In the 1960’s and 70’s a dramatic decline in Pelicans throughout the America’s occurred due the extensive use of pesticides and their eventual presence in fish. This caused egg shells to thin and as a result the loss of clutches. Happily restrictions on pesticides put in place in the 70’s and subsequent restrictions have over time decreased the environmental residues and the Pelican population has recovered.

Generally Pelicans are social birds; they often gather on our sand bank or perch on our dock posts in the morning.

Brown pelican in Belize

Brown Pelicans are true marine birds and feed by diving into the water from flight. We often see the Pelicans feeding up close from our beach on Long Caye, they dive from height into the shallows near the beach in our lagoon, taking the fish into their gular pouch and throwing their head back to swallow. At sunset the Pelicans are regularly feeding in the shallow water at the western end of the island. A Pelican feeding in the calm water is a very special and beautiful slight as the sun sets over the horizon with the silhouette of the other islands in the atoll as a backdrop.

Article and photos contributed by Meg Griffiths, our Belize kitesurfing instructor.