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Brown Pelicans

Come and see unique brown pelicans in their natural habitat

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The Channel Islands National Park off the coast near Santa Barbara is the only breeding ground for California brown pelicans. These seabirds were classified as federally endangered, thus their conservation and preservation are critically important.

The brown pelican breeding range can be found from the Channel Islands to central Mexico. They weigh about 3.5 kg and are approximately 1.2 m high and with an almost 2 m wingspan. They have short dark legs, a large and heavy body, and a large beak. Both sexes look similar, but males are a bit larger. They are quite weak walkers but very strong swimmers due to the webbing between all four toes. Brown pelicans are plunge divers, and that differs them from the rest of pelicans. They can dive from 3 to 9 m below the surface in search for food. Their diet mainly consists of northern anchovy, the Pacific sardine, and the Pacific mackerel. Brown pelicans' lifespan is around 40 years. During breeding season the distal end of the beak turns reddish, the proximal end of the throat and the iris change color as well. Usual colors return during the incubation period.

The nesting season runs from January through October. The birds build large nest structures on the ground or trees. The peak of egg laying season appears during March and April, sometimes till June. Parents share incubation duties in turns. After hatching, pelican chicks are bald and absolutely helpless. They are dependant on parental care for the first three to four weeks. Brown pelicans live close to their breeding grounds. During summer they move north, to British Columbia, and return to the south in early winter.

There is usually no access to the islands from January through October. Boats are kept offshore to protect nests and fledglings from human intervention.

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