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Brown Pelican
Pelecanus occidentalis

Brown Pelican, Photo courtesy of Rochester Institute of Technology
[Photo: Rochester Institute of Technology]

Description: The Brown Pelican is dark and bulky with a wingspan of 6.5 feet. The throat pouch suspends from the lower half of the hooked bill and holds 3 gallons of water and fish.

Life History: The Brown Pelican lives in flocks and flies in groups. Unlike most birds, which warm their eggs with the skin of their breasts, pelicans incubate their eggs with their feet, standing on the eggs to warm them. This incubation method made them vulnerable to the pesticide DDT; the DDT made the eggshells thin, and the incubating parents frequently cracked their eggs.

Habitat: The Brown Pelican is found along ocean shores and bays.

Distribution: The Brown Pelican is a permanent resident of the coastal marine environment from central North America southward to northern South America. It breeds in scattered locations along the Atlantic coast from Maryland southward around Florida, and westward to southern Texas and Mexico; and on the Pacific Coast from southern California down to South America.

Status: The Brown Pelican is listed as endangered, except on the Atlantic coast, Florida, and Alabama. Pesticide poisoning, especially by DDT, caused huge declines in Brown Pelican status. After the ban on DDT, the Brown Pelican population recovered. The total population in the United States now exceeds historical figures.


Cornell University

National Audubon Society

Black Skimmer
Rynchops niger

Black Skimmer, Photo courtesy of Peter S. Weber and USGS
[Photo: Peter S. Weber, USGS]

Description: The Black Skimmer is a medium-sized shore bird with a red and black bill. The lower mandible is longer than the upper and the skimmer flies along the water's surface with the lower half dipped in the water, skimming for small fish. Black Skimmers have a black back and back cap, white underside, and short red legs.

Life History: Females lay 2-5 eggs. Chicks fledge after three weeks.

Habitat: Coastal beaches, bays, and estuaries.

Distribution: Found year-round along the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida and in much of South America. Also found during winter in Mexico near the Gulf and in summer as far north as Massachusetts.

Status: Populations were declining in 1970s, but appear to have stabilized in most places.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology

United States Geological Survey

Least Tern
Sterna antillarum

Least Tern, Photo courtesy of Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources
[Photo: Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources]

Description: The smallest of the North American terns, the least tern is about nine inches long with a short forked tail. During the breeding season the adults are light gray on the upper parts, white underneath, with a black cap and black leading edge to wing. The legs and bill are yellow with the bill noticeably black at the tip. Distinguishable in non-breeding season by black stripe behind eyes and a black bill.

Life History: Diet of exclusively small fish. When hunting, the least tern dives from as high as 20 feet into the water to capture their prey. Clutch size of 1-3 laid in a shallow scrape. Both sexes share incubation duties which last three weeks.

Habitat: Beaches, around lakes or reservoirs, or on sandy river banks.

Distribution: Found as far north as California and Maine and southward into Mexico during the summer and from Mexico to South America during the winter.

Status: Its favored nesting habitat is altered for human recreation, residential development, and alteration by water diversion. Interior Population federally listed as "Endangered" in 1985.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Colorado Department of Natural Resources

Royal Tern
Sterna maxima

Royal Tern, Photo courtesy of Peter S. Weber
[Photo: Peter S. Weber] 

Description: A large tern (18-20 inches) with an orange bill, deeply-forked tail, and black cap in spring and early summer. By the end of breeding season, cap will turn white with black fringes.

Life History: Breed in large beach colonies. Nests made in shallow depressions in the sand called a "scrape". Chicks leave the nest within a week of hatching and congregate. The parents find their own chicks in these large groups and bring then fish and shrimp until they learn to fly at four weeks.

Habitat: Islands, shoals, and beaches.

Distribution: Along Atlantic coast up to Virginia and throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and into South America. On Pacific coast from southern California to Peru.


National Audubon Society

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Sandwich Tern
Sterna sandvicensis

Sandwich Tern, Photo courtesy of Luther Goldman
[Photo: Luther Goldman]

Description: Medium-sized tern of 13-18 inches with yellow-tipped black bill and black legs. White body and pale grey back. Fairly long, deeply-forked tail. Easily identified by its shaggy crest which is black during breeding season and pale in winter.

Life History: Flies over water with bill pointing down; dives into water to catch fish.

Habitat: Seacoasts, bays, estuaries, and mudflats, occasionally ocean far from land.

Distribution: Found in summer from Virginia and south to Texas. Also on Atlantic coast of South America, Europe, and central Asia. Winters along Gulf of Mexico and into South America. Also along coasts of Africa.

Status: The nineteenth century saw large declines in populations as eggs were collected by humans and feathers used for women's hats. More recently, populations appear stable.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology

United States Geological Survey

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