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Brown pelican (Eastern DPS)

The southeastern brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis pop.) breeds from Maryland south along the Atlantic Coast to southern Florida and westward along the Gulf Coast to Alabama [1]. Breeding was attempted in New Jersey in 1992 and 1994. The brown pelican occurs regularly as a non-breeder in New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, and occasionally northward to Nova Scotia.

The listing history of this population is complex. The brown pelican species was listed as endangered throughout its range in 1970. The "southeastern brown pelican," a taxon not previously recognized by scientists or wildlife managers, was separated from the rest of the species, declared recovered, and delisted in 1985 [1]. This distinct population includes and is limited to all portions of the eastern brown pelican (P. o. carolinensis) east of Mississippi. The remaining listed taxon include the MS, LA and TX portions of P. o. carolinensis, the Caribbean brown pelican (P. o. occidentalis) and the California brown pelican (P. o. californicus). Logically, the listed entity should be split into the Western Gulf distinct population segment (MS, LA, TX population of P. o. carolinensis), the Caribbean brown pelican and the California brown pelican.

Nests on the Atlantic Coast increased from 2,796 in 1970 to 10,300 in 1985, when it was delisted, and 15,670 in 1999. Nests on the Gulf Coast (eastern and western) increased from 5,100 in 1970 to 7,000 in 1985 when the Eastern Gulf Coast population was delisted, then continued increasing to 24,400 in 1999.

MARYLAND: Prior to 1987, when six pairs nested on a state-owned dredge spoil island in Chincoteague Bay near Assateague Island, the brown pelican had not been recorded nesting in Maryland [3. 4]. The species has nested in all subsequent years except 1996 and 1997 [4]. Nesting pairs increased from 26 in 1989, to 281 pairs in 2002, then declined to 189 pairs in 2005.

VIGINIA: The brown pelican was not recorded as nesting in Virginia prior to 1987 [4]. Nests increased from 37 in 1989 to 1,406 in 1999 [2].

NORTH CAROLINA: Nests increased from 75 in 1976 [1] to 3,105 in 1989 and 4,350 in 1999 [2].

SOUTH CAROLINA: Nests increased from 1,117 in 1970 [1] to 7,739 in 1989, then decreased to 3,486 in 1999 [2]. The latter decline is believed to be the result of key island habitats eroding away. The birds likely moved to other states.

GEORGIA: The first record of nesting pelicans was in 1988 [2]. Nests increased from 200 in 1989 to 3,622 in 1999 [2].

FLORIDA: Nests increased from 7,690 in 1970 [1] to 12,312 in 1989, then decreased to 8,605 in 1999 [2].

ALABAMA: The brown pelican was not recorded to nest in Alabama prior to 1983 [1]. Nests increased from 588 in 1989 to 5,225 in 1999 [2].

NEW JERSEY: Beginning in the 1980s, brown pelicans were seen with some regularity during the summer. Several pairs unsuccessfully attempted to nest in 1992 and 1994 [2].

NEW YORK: Beginning in the 1980s, brown pelicans were seen with some regularity during the summer, but have not been recorded nesting [2].

DELAWARE: Beginning in the 1980s, brown pelicans were seen with some regularity during the summer, but have not been recorded nesting [2].

[1] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1985. Removal of the brown pelican in the southeastern United States from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife. Federal Register (50:4938).
[2] Shields, M. 2002. Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). In The Birds of North America, No. 609 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
[3] USGS. 2005. Biological and ecotoxicological characteristics of terrestrial vertebrate species residing in estuaries. U.S. Geological Survey. Website (www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bioeco/bpelican.htm) accessed December 30, 2005.
[4] Brinker, D.F. 2006. Brown pelican nesting in Maryland, 1986-2005. Data provided by David Brinker, Natural Heritage Program, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Cantonsville, MD, January 3, 2006.

Banner photo © Phillip Colla