Tag

Pelicans

Brown Pelicans

La Jolla, Pelicans

This morning I photographed brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) in La Jolla. I really don’t need any more photos of pelicans but the setting is so beautiful that I keep returning. I’ve enjoyed these cliffs for 30 years. (We used to cliff dive off of them in college but now the lawyers and beaurocrats have made it illegal.) At this time of year the pelican’s winter plumage is in force, with deep red throat colors and dark brown hind neck on most of the adults. We moved in December, and I was gone most of the month of January, so this was my first trip down to La Jolla this winter even though it is just a few minutes down the coast. All of these were shot with Canon 1Ds Mark III, 300 f/2.8 lens, handheld or with a monopod, some with flash fill.

Brown pelican, golden sunrise light, winter adult breeding plumage, showing bright red gular pouch and dark brown hindneck plumage of breeding adults. This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican, golden sunrise light, winter adult breeding plumage, showing bright red gular pouch and dark brown hindneck plumage of breeding adults. This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning
Image ID: 23624
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican, winter adult breeding plumage, showing bright red gular pouch and dark brown hindneck plumage of breeding adults. This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican, winter adult breeding plumage, showing bright red gular pouch and dark brown hindneck plumage of breeding adults. This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning
Image ID: 23622
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 23623
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 23625
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

See more brown pelican photos as well as our Guide to Photographing Pelicans in La Jolla.

Brown Pelican Photo

California, Pelicans, Wildlife

See my Guide to Photographing Pelicans in La Jolla.

This brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) is coming in for a landing on the cliffs of La Jolla, California, just after sunrise:

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15122
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

See more photos of brown pelicans.

Keywords: pelican, brown pelican, California brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, pelican head throw, bill throw, La Jolla.

Pelican Head Throw

Pelicans

See my Guide to Photographing Pelicans in La Jolla.

Here are a few photos of California brown pelicans performing the pelican head throw, also known as the pelican bill throw. It looks painful. The brown pelican lifts its large bill up, arches its neck back until the throat gular pouch is stretched and taut, holds this position for a moment, and lowers its bill again. Sometimes it will open its jaw during the head throw, other times it will precede or follow the bill throw by bending its neck such that the throat pouch is turned inside out. Strange. Check out this bird, it is one of my favorite species and truly bizarre. I’ve seen one bird photo specialist refer to the head throw behaviour as “elusive”, however in my experience the head throw is quite easy to capture on film provided you are reasonably observant and can put your lens on the subject in a timely manner.

Brown pelican head throw.  During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican head throw. During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch.
Image ID: 15124
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican head throw.  During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican head throw. During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch.
Image ID: 15179
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

See more photos of brown pelicans.

Keywords: pelican, brown pelican, California brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, pelican head throw, bill throw, La Jolla.

Photos of La Jolla Brown Pelicans

California, Natural World, Pelicans, Wildlife

See our Guide to Photographing Pelicans in La Jolla.

Bird photography seems like a rather sendentary pursuit. Compared to photographing tiger sharks or ocean sunfish, there is not much action during a bird photo shoot; what activity there is consists mostly of fooling with the tripod, applying sunscreen and chatting about equipment, travel, the quality of the light and where to get coffee once the birds have flown. Now that I have insulted a large number of photographers out there, let me add that good bird photography is in reality a hideously difficult pursuit. The masters of bird photography are some of the most skilled photographers around, with the patience of Job. Since I dive with seabirds and often have fine opportunities to observe them in and under the water, photography of seabirds in particular holds a certain appeal and I do pursue it from time to time. However, there is really only one bird that I have been able to photograph well, primarily because it is big, slow and I can get close to it: the pelican. Lately I have been testing the sharpness of a new 500mm lens, and since the surf has been flat the last few weeks my focus has had to shift from waves to seabirds (and elephant seals, more on that soon). In particular, I’ve been out shooting California brown pelicans in La Jolla. These birds are magnificient flyers found in a beautiful setting (La Jolla is the jewel of San Diego), have photogenic details, and honestly acquiring good photos of them is quite simple for any halfway experienced wildlife photographer.

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15122
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican.  This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican. This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 15123
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican head throw.  During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican head throw. During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch.
Image ID: 15124
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

La Jolla, California is a superb location to observe and photograph the California race of the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus). The cliffs above the La Jolla caves, also known as Goldfish Point, are currently an established resting place for brown pelicans. In the 80’s and 90’s when I would visit La Jolla for a morning dive or swim but found the water conditions not to my liking, I would instead pay the pelicans a visit and spend time photographing them. In those days I would be the only person watching them, to the point that if I was patient and moved carefully I would eventually find myself among them, surrounded, with great ops using only an 80-200mm lens. In fact, I never encountered another photographer. These days, however, the word is apparently out on this opportunity among the bird lovers, since it is now typical to find groups of serious bird photographers lined up with huge lenses trained on the birds, some of which appear to be workshops or photography classes. Winter is a particularly good time to photograph brown pelicans as the males assume their breeding plumage: a striking dark brown neck to contrast with white and yellow head feathers and deep red-orange throat pouch below the bill. Mornings work well, since the pelicans can be photographed in flight, arriving from their morning flights to land on the rock, as well as resting and preening on the guano-covered knobs of rock at the top of the cliffs.

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15125
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. Long exposure shows motion as a blur. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with dark brown hindneck and bright red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. Long exposure shows motion as a blur. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with dark brown hindneck and bright red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 15134
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican.  This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican. This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 15128
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelicans inhabit coastal areas of North and South America, frequenting lagoons, sand flats, cliffs, marinas, piers and waterfronts. While they were classified as endangered throughout their range in 1970, the Atlantic coast population status was no longer considered endangered by 1985 (although the other regions are still.) Brown pelicans are rarely seen inland. The brown pelican is a large bird, reaching 4 ft. in length, weighs about 9 lbs. and has a wingspan over 7 ft. It is characterized by an enormous bill, longer than its head. Pelicans are superb divers, plummeting into the sea to grasp mouthfuls of small fish, requiring about 4 lbs. of fish each day to thrive. The skin pouch suspended from the lower bill holds as much as 3 gallons of water, and is used to trap and hold prey until the water can be released through the side of the mouth, at which time the bill is tipped up and the prey is swallowed. (The skin pouch also offers a way for the pelican to thermoregulate, in other words, cool itself during hot spells.) It should be noted that scientific studies show that pelicans do not compete with commercial fishing interests, in fact pelicans pursue species of fish not desired by the commercial fishing industry.

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15139
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican.  This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican. This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 15140
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15148
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Socially, brown pelicans roost together (male and female) and fly in dramatic single file or V formations, hunting during the day. Brown pelicans often perform an odd behaviour known as a head-throw, in which they crank their large bill up and backward, stretching out the skin pouch and straightening their neck. It looks quite painful. Brown pelicans create low, broad nests in which the females will lay 2-3 eggs each year. (I have not observed nests atop the La Jolla cliffs, probably due to human presence, but have seen many nests in neighboring islands and coastal areas of Baja California just to the south.) In the 1960’s, brown pelican populations dropped precariously due to DDT and other toxic pesticides that reached the pelicans through coastal runoff that was then absorbed through the food chain by plankton and small teleost fishes. The DDT caused pelican eggs to be so thin that the young would not survive. (Other bird species were affected by DDT in the same way.)

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. Long exposure shows motion as a blur. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with dark brown hindneck and bright red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. Long exposure shows motion as a blur. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with dark brown hindneck and bright red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 15136
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15126
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican head throw.  During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican head throw. During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch.
Image ID: 15131
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

There are many web pages about brown pelicans, but I think the Audobon one is good.