Atlantic and Pacific
coasts of North, Central and South America.
increasing; recent estimate not available.
Noting the brown pelicanís "graceful glide" and "dextrous" use of its bill --
which functions both as a dipnet and cooling mechanism -- John James
Audubon described this species as "one of the most interesting of our American
birds." Within a few decades, the bird was decimated by hunters, who provided
pelican feathers for adorning ladiesí hats and garments; egg collectors; and
fishermen who thought pelicans ate too many fish. Efforts to secure the birdís
future brought some legal protection and, in 1903, the first U.S. National
Wildlife Refuge, Floridaís Pelican Island. However, after World War II,
pelicans faced a new, deadly threat: widespread use of pesticides, particularly
DDT, which caused reproductive failure. After EDFís efforts led to a
nationwide ban on DDT, brown pelican numbers began rising, but the species is
still vulnerable to other pesticides and human disturbance of nesting colonies. It
remains endangered in California, Texas, and Louisiana, as well as outside the
U.S. On the U.S. Atlantic and Florida Gulf coasts, where pelicans fare better,
the species has been removed from the endangered species list.
(Photo credit: Mike Haramis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)