Science Interviews


Tue, 11th Jan 2011

Critter of the Month - Brown Pelican

John Bruno, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Alternatives to Overfishing

This month's critter is something that lives above, on, and even in the sea...  The Brown Pelican.

John - My name’s John Bruno, I’m a marine ecologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And if I were to be a marine animal I would be a brown pelican.

Brown PelicanBrown pelicans live in Nnorth and South America along the coast. They’re sea birds, they eat fish almost exclusively. And of the 8 species of pelican they’re the only ones that dive into the water to catch their fish.

They live part of their lives just sitting in trees, hanging out, part of their lives floating on the ocean. They migrate quite far seasonally, so you’ll often see them skimming in these long lines just over the waves. And of course they get to go into the ocean as well. So they’ll dive in pretty deep, a couple of metres sometimes maybe a little more than that, catch a fish, bring it up to the surface, and gulp it down.

For a long time in North America they were threatened by DDT which made their egg shells too thin for the chicks to survive but that problem largely been solved. So their populations are recovering, doing really well.

Of course the Gulf Coast oil spill is causing them lots of problems, at least locally, and one of the most horrific images from that tragedy is seeing pictures of oiled pelicans on the beach.

Find out more

Guide to brown pelicans Pelecanus occidentalis at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology


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