We may hardly notice them because they're so always present, including on the town of Seabrook Island's official seal, but brown pelicans, with their seven-foot wingspans and silent gliding formations, are a key indicator species of the health of our surrounding waters. Feeding on sardines, anchovies, herring, mullets, minnows and small crustaceans, a thriving colony means a sustainable marine ecology.
Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis carolinensis) are one of three species of pelicans found in the Americas (the Peruvian and American White are the other two), and are common from southern New England as far south as the mouth of the Amazon River. Listed as endangered until 2009 due to low birth rates caused by exposure to DDT and other toxic pesticides, populations of "brownies" have stabilized, as a visit to the Deveaux Bank, a major breeding ground at the mouth of the North Edisto River, will confirm.
Breeding takes place during March and April, when you'll see a yellow patch on the birds' white heads while in breeding plumage. Males and females alternately tend to a clutch of three or four eggs, keeping them warm under their webbed feet until they hatch in about thirty days. Pelicans are among the longer-lived marine species with a lifespan of up to thirty years.
Soaring as high as seventy feet above the water while searching for fish, brown pelicans are one of only two of the world's eight species to feed by diving, plunging headfirst into the water to scoop up their prey before surfacing and straining the water from their signature pouch to swallow their catch.
Brownies are non-migratory, so we're able to enjoy these magnificent birds all year round as they soar gracefully overhead or skim offshore waters.