A mid-February visit to the Malibu Lagoon did not disappoint. The water level was quite low, resulting in fewer birds and species.
At midday, California brown pelicans were preening on islets in the middle of Malibu Creek, surrounded by gulls and cormorants. Several pelicans sported poppy red breeding plumage on their necks.
The light blue eyes are a further indication that breeding season has arrived. The tips of their bills also turn red with the onset of breeding season.
Brown pelicans’ diet consists of northern anchovies and Pacific sardines, among other fish. Patient beachgoers can see them plunge-dive from the sky. This technique effectively stuns the fish, and allows the birds to fill their gular pouches.
We often see squadrons of pelicans riding the wind currents over Westward and Zuma beaches in perfect, silent formation. They also course over waves at the shore’s edge, gliding effortlessly, mere inches above the top of the water.
The National Park Service description of the species tells us they breed on the Channel Islands, off the coast of California. “Brown pelicans are asynchronous nesters. The nesting season historically began in March and extended through late summer or early fall, but in recent years has often surpassed 11 months. Normal clutch size is three eggs. The peak of egg laying is usually March or April; however, eggs are often laid through June. Incubation commences after the first egg is laid, and males and females share incubation duties.”
Listed as endangered in 1970 by the Federal government, the brown pelican was removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 2009. The California brown pelican is the smallest sub-species of the brown pelican.
Fun fact: Brown pelicans incubate their eggs with the skin of their feet.