October 2010 Bird Photo of the Month

“Take off” © Dawn Currie
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

This immature Brown Pelican may continue to fly and glide just above the water, often with others in echelon formation, until fish are spotted. They climb as high as 50 feet and plunge-dive with folded wings and sealed nostrils to surprise and scoop up prey with the aid of an expandable gular pouch. This “fish basket” can hold, then drain, up to 3 gallons of water. Why are adults more successful than juveniles? Besides having target practice, adults dive from greater height reaching greater depth, and their steeper dives increase accuracy. Adults also sometimes abort their dive when they see little chance of success, whereas juveniles have never been observed stopping in mid-dive.

Major rookeries for Pelicans in Indian River County are on Pelican Island north of Wabasso Causeway and Rookery Island off of the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area.  After raising their offspring to about 4 months of age, some adults migrate north, possibly as far as Delaware.  During July and August, juveniles are left to forage on their own and we can appreciate their new skills.

Dawn says she saw the pelican sitting on top of the sand dune. She knew it would take off sometime, so she positioned herself to take the photo and waited.  Good bird photography like birding takes patience and careful observation.  She used a Canon EOS 450D, 70-300mm zoom lens at 110mm, ISO 400, F/8.0, 1/1000 sec exposure.  When photographs have diagonals like this, there is more dynamic movement, which is especially appropriate when the subject is in motion.  Our eye follows the shoreline over the pelican’s patterned wing, right around the churning waves and along its long beak, and back to the shoreline and the lines of the pelican’s shadow, circling, taking in the whole photograph.  The pale blue of the ocean softly sets off the predominant gray of this immature pelican and is reflected in the receding blue water on the beach sand.

Juanita Baker
PIAS Photo of the Month Coordinator

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