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Notes From The Field Blog

Cleveland's Brown Pelican

Posted: 7/30/2013
Posted By: Jen Brumfield
Original Source: Notes from the Field

Cleveland has been hosting a mega-rare East Coast visitor for 39 days, now - an immature brown pelican. There are only two previous records of this species for Cuyahoga County - a one-day wonder on April 29th, 1990, and another one-day wonder, September 7, 2012 - both from Huntington Reservation. Overall, there's few records for Ohio and the Great Lakes! This summer 2013 individual is setting all sorts of records, and was still present on the outer Cleveland breakwall as recently as Sunday, July 29. 

Copyright Chuck Sluscarzyk Jr. 

Why is it here? 
Rare birds such as this do not often stray from their native range or habitats unless a major weather event pushes them with strong winds and precipitation. This brown pelican was likely swept to the Great Lakes by a major low pressure system hovering over the Atlantic coastline. Moving on winds, it found a PERFECT location: Lake Erie's shoreline with its plethora of harbors and perches (breakwalls, marinas), and a solid supply of fish. By associating with double-crested cormorants, thousands of ring-billed and herring gulls, Caspian terns, and other summering residents, there's safety in numbers. 

Copyright Chuck Sluscarzyk Jr. 

Double-crested cormorants are similar to pelicans, with their large size, long necks, and slender bills with a "pouch." These cormorants were photographed as they lounged on the breakwall near the brown pelican. Up to 400 cormorants can be seen offshore Cleveland, sitting on pilings, breakwalls, marinas, or swimming and diving to catch fish. They're experts at fishing, but they dive while swimming, not from the air like pelicans! 

Why won't the pelican leave and go back "home"? 
We're a bit surprised that this bird hasn't moved on! Sometimes stray birds end up getting turned around to the point where they won't leave until a major seasonal change. With plenty of food, plenty of habitat, and pleasant summer-time temperatures in Cleveland, this bird's chance for survival is excellent. Animals innately drive to return to their native range, but in this case, this bird is surviving quite well with plenty of fishing opportunities and good weather. A major season change - colder temperatures in fall leading into winter, will surely drive this bird to return to more favorable coastal haunts. 

What does it eat here? 
Brown pelicans are fish specialists. Here on Lake Erie it's probably consuming a huge number of gizzard shad - an easy catch in shallow harbor waters and just offshore. Pelicans make spectacular plunge-dives, using the force of impact to stun small fish before scooping them up in their massive bill pouches. A foraging pelican spots a fish from the air and dives head-first from as high as 65 feet, tucking and twisting to the left to protect its trachea and esophagus from the impact. As it plunges into the water, its throat pouch expands to trap the fish, filling with up to 2.6 gallons of water that they'll drain before swallowing their catch! 

Copyright Chuck Sluscarzyk Jr. 

Brown pelicans have a massive wingspan - between 6.5 feet and 8 feet, and weight between 6 and 12 pounds.

Love this pelican?
CLE Clothing Co. has created a special t-shirt commemorating this amazing visitor. Get yours here.

Stay tuned for more updates! 


3/23/2014 11:09:00 PM by Pam
Just wondering what ever happened to our brown pelican over the winter months
1/9/2014 10:02:49 PM by deb mook
did the pelican make it through the storm or did he leave? deb
12/27/2013 8:00:27 PM by Robert Shoulders
I saw the brown pelican on the Cuyahoga river Dec. 26 2013. It was in the river along with 100 rds. of see gulls feeding on shad behind the Arcelor Mittal #1 power house water intake. It lifted off the water and flew past me at 30 ft. I lived in south east Louisiana for 11 yrs. and I'm vary familiar with the bird.
12/7/2013 3:48:11 PM by Dave
Pelican is still here. Saw him/her near E55 marina.
8/5/2013 5:51:39 AM by Chuck Slusarczyk Jr.
Thanks to all for the wonderful comments on my photos, and if it's okay with the Metroparks I would like to share a link to a Facebook page I created this evening dedicated solely to this wonderful visitor to our shores that is open to all!
8/5/2013 5:47:11 AM by Chuck Slusarczyk Jr.
Thanks to all for the wonderful comments on my photos, and I hope it's okay with the Metroparks to post this link of the Facebook page I just created dedicated exclusively to this bird. It it open to all and in honor of this rare visitor to our shores!
8/3/2013 12:05:38 AM by Ronald J LaCourse
I wonder if the pelican wasn't here during hurricane Sandy. Or perhaps another after winter storm that passed over the east coast. Happy to have it around. Too bad there is no mate for it at this time.
8/2/2013 12:15:36 PM by Bonnie Cluck
Love the creature. If he/she spends any amount of time here, perhaps the zoo aught to check into releasing (or obtaining) a mate for it. But not sure how they all would adapt to this habitat in the wild.
7/31/2013 1:47:34 PM by Chris
Who wants to join me for a kayak adventure to visit mr pelican this evening? Message me at BoldFoto on FB, you will need a kayak to join me.
7/31/2013 12:45:37 AM by Molly
Thank you for sharing! Cleveland is my hometown and I have been following this story. I also ordered the tee from CLE clothing and I love came in the mail today...I hope the pelican stays as long as it finds happiness and good food in Cleveland :)
7/31/2013 12:41:35 AM by Liga
Need an update every day. Otherwise I get worried that the pelican may have taken off.
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