Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery birds] Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, in a spectacular dive, photographed the Quintana Beach and Jetty area, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 18 November 2008 [larger view].

Nikon D200 1/2500s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:

This is a great photo of a Brown Pelican doing what it does best: diving, in a twisting, turning plunge, into the water after prey. That behavior alone eliminates the surface-feeding American White Pelican, even before we notice the uniformly dark plumage of this juvenile Brown.

But I’m dangerously ahead of myself. I don’t know where this photo was taken, and there are in fact two brown pelicans (that is to say, pelicans that are brown) in the waters of tropical America. The Peruvian Pelican, Pelecanus thagus, was described to science two and a quarter centuries ago, but was long relegated to subspecific status; only in the last few years has it been recognized again as a species distinct from the widespread Brown Pelican. Peruvian is impressively large, and juveniles are said to be darker above than the corresponding age class in Brown Pelican; but I think the better part of valor here is to hide behind ignorance and call this an unidentified brown pelican. Anyone out there know more?

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 John Callender
    December 28, 2008

    That’s a first-year Brown Pelican, about a half second before impact. 🙂

    Adults have that pretty cream-colored plumage on the head and neck.

    Growing up sailing in Southern California, I saw a lot of these (and still do, thankfully — thank you, Rachel Carson).

  2. #2 kamaka
    December 28, 2008

    OK, biologists, this Brown Pelican is about to dive in and catch a fish. How do they and the herons and egrets deal with the parallax?

  3. #3 EyeNoU
    December 29, 2008

    About the Brown Pelican: Is it true his beak holds more than his belly can?

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