Every winter around this time, we get a very strange visitor to the lake in My Florida Backyard. It's unusual and yet expected, so even though we're no longer surprised, we're still always pleased to see him. It's a Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), which are common as dragonflies along the coastal waters but somewhat unexpected on a shallow inland lake more than five miles from the coast.
This brown pelican is an adult in non-breeding plumage - pelicans in breeding plumage have dark brown necks and white heads tinged with yellow. We've never known for sure if it's the same pelican that comes back each year (it's certainly possible - pelicans have been known to live 30 years or more), but it's definitely only a single pelican at a time. Sometimes he's part of the massive groups of water birds that congregate on the lake in the winter (see this previous post for an example) and sometimes he's on his own.
Some days we only see the pelican in flight overhead, soaring up and down the string of stormwater lakes that dot our neighborhood. Brown pelicans are unique among pelicans in that they look for food from the sky, diving in headfirst like a sleek arrow. Other pelican species hunt more like dabbling ducks, swimming on the surface and bobbing their heads under to catch fish. When the brown pelican bobs along on the water, he's just taking a rest between diving missions.
He looks large next to this flock of Double Crested Cormorants, but brown pelicans are actually the smallest of the eight species of pelicans found worldwide. The White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), found in some areas of Florida during the winter, can be more than twice its size. Still, the brown pelican is a commanding presence on our small inland lake, and we enjoy having one around every winter!