by Lianne Koczur, Ph.D. Science & Conservation.
Photos by: Stan Serba, Renee Lockett, Lianne Koczur and RGV.com staff.
Q: How many types of pelicans are there in the Rio Grande Valley?
A: There are two species of pelican that can be seen in the Rio Grande Valley, the Brown Pelican, and the American White Pelican.
Q: Can you only find pelicans on the coast?
A: Brown Pelicans are a nearshore seabird. They generally don’t fly too far out to sea for foraging because they need dry land to come back to for drying out their wings after about two hours on the water. They may venture slightly inland on occasion, for example, foraging along the Rio Grande, but generally, you see them on the coast.
Q: Where do our local pelicans migrate to and when?
A: If you are in south Texas year-round, you may have noticed that you don’t see as many pelicans during the spring and summer months as you do in winter. Many of the winter residents migrate north to breed along the upper Texas coast and the offshore islands of Louisiana. They start to return in in the fall. Many will stop in Texas and winter in the South Padre Island area, and some continue to move south into Mexico for the winter.
Q: What are some of the strangest facts about pelicans that most people don’t know?
A: They look heavier than they are! They only weigh about 6 to 7 lbs. Pelicans have air sacs below their skin that help them float and protect their organs when they dive for fish.
They can fit up to 3 gallons of water in their pouch when they dive to catch fish! That water gets pushed out the side of their bill before they swallow the fish.
A: If you see a banded pelican (or any banded bird) you can report it at https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBL/bblretrv/
A: If you see an injured pelican you should call a local game warden. Contact information can be found here: https://tpwd.texas.gov/warden/index.phtml?county=Cameron
Q: As a pelican lover, what are the things I can do to help their population?
A: If you are driving on Highway 48 or the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway during a winter cold front, slow down for your safety and for the birds! Also, it is generally not a great idea to feed pelicans your scraps when you are cleaning fish, especially if there are bones sticking out. Bones can get caught in their throat and injure them. It can also cause young pelicans to become dependent on that source of food, which can be detrimental to their health and survival. Lastly, pelicans, and many other birds, can easily get tangled in fishing line. This can cause severe injuries and can even be fatal. Be aware of pelicans when you are out fishing, and dispose of fishing line properly.