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Pelicans Go Fishing

The two species of North American pelicans fish in different ways
© Dan & Lin Dzurisin View Large

There are two kinds of pelicans in North America – the American White Pelican and the Brown Pelican. And they’ve evolved different tactics to catch their prey.

Full Transcript



Pelicans Go Fishing

Written by Dennis Paulson

This is BirdNote.

[Sound of Brown Pelican diving]

There are two kinds of pelicans in North America – the American White Pelican and the Brown Pelican. And they’ve evolved two different tactics to catch their prey.

[American White Pelican grunting call]

The American White Pelican floats on the surface of the water, ready to scoop up fish. As the bird lifts its head, water drains out of its pouch, and the fish go down with a gulp. The birds often work together to herd fish — they form a group, swim in a line, and dip their heads all at once, scooping up their catch.

[Brown Pelicans call]

The Brown Pelican takes more of an every-bird-for-itself approach. It drops down on its prey from as much as 65 feet up. As it plummets deep beneath the waves, its narrow beak cuts through the water and then opens to engulf the fish in its expansive pouch. Then it pops to the surface and downs its catch.  

American White Pelicans can be found throughout much of the United States, especially in the South and interior West. Brown Pelicans tend to like the warmer coastal waters of Louisiana, Florida, and Southern California. At certain times of year, you can find them farther up the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, too.

Find out more about both pelicans at our website, I’m Michael Stein.

[big splash]

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 38322 recorded by Theodore A. Parker III. Brown Pelican recorded by Martyn Stewart of
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
Editor: Ashley Ahearn
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill
Narrator: Michael Stein
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2019 BirdNote   December 2013 / 2019

ID#  SotB-pelicans-01-2011-12-21       SotB-pelicans-01b

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