Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Episode 456 (1-21-19): Pelicans

Click to listen to episode (3:52).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 1-18-19.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of January 21, 2019.   The week we revisit a January 2012 episode about a bird known as a symbol of coastal areas.  Have a listen for about 10 seconds to the following mystery sounds, and see if you can guess what’s making the clucking, croaking, and squeaking.  And here’s a hint: You might find this throaty creature in a dive.

SOUND - ~9 sec

If you guessed pelican chicks, you’re right!   Out of seven or eight pelican species worldwide, two occur in North America, and both are known from Virginia’s coast, at least occasionally.  The American White Pelican is considered an uncommon visitor in Virginia.  The Brown Pelican, on the other hand, is found year-round in the Commonwealth and has been occurring in increasing numbers in Virginia coastal waters since the 1980s.  Brown Pelicans were listed as a federally endangered species in 1970, after their populations had significantly decreased over several decades.  In fact, protection of Brown Pelicans was a significant reason for establishment in 1903 of the first U.S. National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s Pelican Island.  A 1972 ban on the pesticide DDT, habitat restoration, and other conservation efforts have helped Brown Pelicans make a remarkable recovery.  The species’ populations from Alabama northward along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts were removed from the federally endangered list in1985, and other populations were removed from the list in 2009.

Pelicans are fish eaters, and Brown Pelicans are known for their feeding behavior of plunging from flight into water to trap fish in their large, expandable throat pouch.  Surfacing after an underwater catch, the birds point their bill down to drain out large amounts of water, then raise the bill up to swallow the fish.  Some other Brown Pelican peculiarities include being largely silent as adults; having excellent eyesight to spot fish from high above; suffering from seagulls that will try to take fish from a pelican’s pouch; and standing over their eggs to incubate them with heat from the skin of the adult pelican’s feet.

With their fortunes much improved since the first days of Florida’s Pelican Island Refuge in the early 1900s, Brown Pelicans are now a familiar flying and fishing feature along many coastlines, including Virginia’s.

Thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for making the pelican chicks sounds available for public use.


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 95, 1-16-12, and the “Water Sounds and Music” segment of Episode 37, 10-11-10.

The sounds of pelican chicks were taken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “Video Productions and Broadcasts,” online at http://www.fws.gov/video/sound.htm, accessed 1/18/19.  For more Fish and Wildlife Service sounds, as well as video and images, see the National Digital Library, online at http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at http://www.bencosgrove.com.


Brown Pelican painting (top) and American White Pelican painting (bottom), originally published between 1827 and 1838 by John James Audubon, as reprinted in 1985 by Abbeville Press, New York. Information about Birds of America is available from the National Audubon Society, online at http://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america; the Brown Pelican entry is online at https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/brown-pelican-0. Photos taken in 2019 from the reprint copy (no. 6 of 350 copies printed in 1985) owned by Special Collections of Virginia Tech Libraries. Virginia Water Radio thanks Special Collections for permission to photograph their copy and for their assistance.

Brown Pelican at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at http://digitalmedia.fws.gov, accessed 1-21-19.  The specific link to the photo is https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/1628/rec/2.

Young Brown Pelican on nest in Breton National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. Photo by Donna A. Dewhurst, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at http://digitalmedia.fws.gov, accessed 1-21-19.  The specific link to the photo is https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/3400/rec/13.


The scientific name of the Brown Pelican is Pelecanus occidentalis.

Following is some information on reproduction and feeding by Brown Pelicans, excerpted from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040020&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=17914.  (VDGIF information on the American White Pelican is online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040019&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=17914.)

“The breeding season depends on the location.  The incubation period is 28 days.  There is one brood/year with 1-3 young/nest.  There are 1.2-1.5 fledglings/nesting effort needed for a stable population.  The females will re-nest if the first nest is destroyed.  They are sexually mature at 3 years.  Courtship activities are confined to the nest site.  The male brings nesting material to the female who builds the nest.  They are a long-lived bird.  The clutch size is from 2-5, and the eggs are chalky white, 3 X 1.9 inches.  Three eggs per clutch is the most common size; but 2 eggs is also common.”

“This species will dive down on a school of fish from the air.  They feed in shallow estuarine waters.  They have been seen 30-60 km offshore.  They occasionally feed beyond the breakers, and frequent fishing piers.  They fly low over the water, spot a potential prey fish, and dive to capture it.  The fish are then transferred to the gular pouch.   They dive from heights of 3-9 meters and will fish from the surface of the water.  Red tides which kill fish cause pelicans to move out of the area.  They emigrate when food becomes scarce.  Cold temperatures cause fish to move down in the water column and become unavailable to surface feeding pelicans.  Foods include, crustaceans, menhaden, mullet, sardines, pinfish.”

Distribution and Habitat
“They are maritime, and not found inland.  They are found from North Carolina to Florida, around the Gulf coast to Texas and Mexico and southward to Venezuela, the West Indies and the Caribbean islands.  They are usually resident near breeding grounds.  The young birds tend to wander.  They are found in salt bays, beaches, and oceans on perches, posts and boats.  Sandspits and offshore sandbars are used for loafing in the daytime and roosting at night.  They are found on coastal inlets, mangrove keys, sandbars, and fishing piers.”


Used for Audio

Audubon Guide to North American Birds, “American White Pelican,” online at https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/american-white-pelican; and “Brown Pelican,” online at https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/brown-pelican.

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Brown Pelican,” online at https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/brown_pelican.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at http://www.allaboutbirds.org. The American White Pelican entry is at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_White_Pelican/; the Brown Pelican entry is at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown_Pelican/.

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Pelican,” as of 1/3/19, online at https://www.britannica.com/animal/pelican.

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md., 2006.

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, N.Y., 2001.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Brown pelican populations recovered, removed from Endangered Species List, 11/11/09 news release.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Breton National Wildlife Refuge (Louisiana), “Brown Pelican,” online at https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Breton/wildlife_and_habitat/pelican.html.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge (Florida), online at https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Pelican_Island/about.html.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at http://vafwis.org/fwis/?Title=VaFWIS+Species+Information+By+Name&vUT=Visitor.  The American White Pelican entry is online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040019&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=17914.  The Brown Pelican entry is online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040020&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=17914

For More Information about Pelicans or Other Birds

John James Audubon, “American White Pelican—Plate 311,” from Birds of America, accessed from The Audubon Society, online at https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/american-white-pelican.

John James Audubon, “Brown Pelican—Plate 251,” from Birds of America, accessed from The Audubon Society, online at https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/brown-pelican-0.

BirdNote®, a daily broadcast/podcast on birds, online at http://birdnote.org/.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “E-bird,” online at https://ebird.org/home.  This program was featured in Virginia Water Radio Episode 440, 10-1-18.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID,” online at http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/.  The application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, “Birds of North America Online,” online at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna (subscription required).

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at http://www.virginiabirds.org/.  The Society is non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site, online at http://www.xeno-canto.org/.  The site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Birds” subject category.

Following are links to three other episodes that mention pelicans.
Episode 183, 10-14-13, on fall migratory birds.
Episode 206, 3-24-14, on sounds of spring.
Episode 282, 9-21-15, on living things vs. non-living things (for kindergarten students).


The episode—the audio, extra information, or sources—may help with the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
3.10 – impacts on survival of species, including effects of fire, flood, disease, and erosion on organisms.
4.9 – Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.
6.9 – public policy decisions related to the environment (including resource management and conservation, land use decision, hazard mitigation, cost/benefit assessments).

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 – animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
3.4 – behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 – living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 – food webs.
4.5 – ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystem.
5.5 – cell structures and functions, organism classification, and organism traits.
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.8 – community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 – adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors, including characteristics of land, marine, and freshwater environments.
LS.10 – changes over time in ecosystems, communities, and populations, and factors affecting those changes, including climate changes and catastrophic disturbances.
LS.11 – relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.10 – ocean processes, interactions, and policies affecting coastal zones, including Chesapeake Bay.

Biology Course
BIO.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
BIO.2 – water chemistry and its impact on life processes.
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

2015 Social Studies SOLs

Civics and Economics Course
CE.6 – government at the national level.
CE.10 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 – how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.18 – cooperation among political jurisdictions to solve problems and settle disputes.

Government Course
GOVT.7 – national government organization and powers.
GOVT.9 – public policy process at local, state, and national levels.
GOVT.15 – role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.