Most easily recognized by their large pouches, Pelicans have extremely keen eyesight and can sometimes spot a single fish from as high as 70 feet above the water.
Diving steeply, they usually come up with a pouch full Ė and eat up to 4 pounds of fish a day! A brown pelicanís 6Ĺ foot to 7Ĺ foot wingspan enables it to travel hundreds of miles every year.
Brown pelicans from the mid-Atlantic population are believed to be the most migratory of the species, with Maryland as the northernmost state with successful nesting pairs.
Brown pelicans arrive in the Chesapeake Bay to nest and breed beginning in mid-March. They nest in colonies, mostly on small, isolated coastal islands which provide protection from predators, where they build their nests on the ground, in bushes or in the tops of trees. After spending the summer feeding on menhaden, shad and other fish, the migratory birds leave the Chesapeake for warmer winter weather in Florida and northern Central America.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologist Dave Brinker discovered Marylandís first-ever recorded nesting pair of brown pelicans 1987. Since then, Brinker and his teams of biologists and volunteers have banded more than 18,000 of the pelican chicks raised on the bayís isolated islands.
From just five known nesting pairs in 1987, the number of brown pelican pairs in Marylandís portion of the Chesapeake Bay grew to 141 in 1999 and 1,042 in 2008 - the largest number in recorded history. Two traditional colony sites -- Fishermanís Island at the mouth of the Bay and the marshes south of Ewell on Smith Island --now represent the core of the Mid-Atlantic population.
Illustration of Brown