The Florida Pelicans

The Florida Pelicans

By Kelly Dean

The Florida pelicans are an underappreciated bird. But they are one of the most interesting birds to watch on any given day from the piers and shores of this state. Their daily routine becomes our observational joy.

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They remain nonchalant, going about their business, but we revel in the effort they must go to each day to simply feed themselves. They are quite large birds, as birds go, and they must catch quite a few fish each day.

There are two species of pelicans in Florida, the brown pelican and the white pelican. The white pelican is a sight to see, virtually snow white all over, but the brown pelican is most the visible, with a brown-gray body, white neck and black throat. To me, the brown pelican is the working class bird of Florida. The white pelican is the rock star, hanging out on islands you happen to pass by in your boat when you least expect to see them. White pelicans are an occasional treat where the brown is the visible wonder; you can enjoy their antics for an hour, especially when there are several of them all working in the same area.

PelicansCopyright Kelly Dean

Brown and White Pelicans, Copyright Kelly Dean


Brown and White Pelicans, Copyright Kelly Dean

Pelicans, regardless of white or brown, are graceful soaring birds, and clumsy awkward fishermen. They can be comical. Their usual food mission starts with a low swoop about six feet over the water, followed by a sudden nose dive into the water. The splash is quite large and the wings are flailing and there is nothing graceful about it, yet it is incredibly interesting to watch.

One can’t help but watch to see if the bird then makes the “success gesture” by craning its neck and doing its gulp, gulp, gulp action. If there’s no action, there’s no fish. Better luck next time.

Brown PelicansCopyright Kelly Dean

Brown Pelicans at Matlacha, Copyright Kelly Dean

I’ve had the good fortune of having pelicans pace me in my car on a bridge; follow me in my boat; and patiently wait for me to discard any leftover bait — to their sheer joy. It’s a mutual joy because I love having them around.

Unfortunately, they aren’t incredibly intelligent, though.

Brown PelicansCopyright Kelly Dean

Insulted Brown Pelicans, Matlache, Copyright Kelly Dean

They will go for your bait on a hook, often getting tangled in your line or even snagged. I have not had this happen to me but I’ve seen it a few times. We might have to make some adjustments in our lives to continue to enjoy them; some areas limit fishing and hook sizes.


White Pelicans, Photo: Kelly Dean

According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, you’re supposed to get it to the pier if hooked, use a net, cover it with a blanket to calm it and use the same techniques to remove the hook as you would if it were a human being. If it’s hooked deeply or swallows the hook, check with the Commission here and those who rehabilitate these animals will show up.

You should not cut the line as this will only incur future problems. But every time I’ve seen one caught, they freed themselves before getting to the pier. I’m sure this isn’t always the case, so best be aware of the birds when fishing and know what to do.

Take a few moments next time you’re at the beach to enjoy this wonderful creature. They will not disappoint you.


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