Brown Pelicans on the Chesapeake Bay

There are times when Nature completely surprises you. In 1970, the Brown Pelican was declared an Endangered Species due to heavy hunting, and the effects of DDT in the food chain. Since then, Conservation efforts to ban DDT and hunting have been successful and gloriously the oddly looking Brown Pelican was removed from the Endangered list in 2009.


Growing up in Florida, pelicans were always a part of the environment. With their long beaks and deep pouches, their comical appearance always brought a smile to my face. They like to spend time near fishermen, and I remember being on a boat in Jupiter Inlet with an outboard engine, and one came and landed on top of the engine and just motored along with us hoping for an easy handout.

In recent years, these Brown Pelicans are starting to claim islands in the lower Chesapeake Bay as their home to raise their families. These remote and isolated islands provide them protection and their numbers are growing every year.

This fall has been unseasonably warm, and the salinity levels in the water in the upper bay have been high. In addition, coastal areas in North and South Carolina were significantly damaged due to Hurricane Matthew. Add the plentiful fish that the Osprey already know about, over 400 Brown Pelicans have been hanging below the Chesapeake Bay Bridge the past few weeks.


It’s been incredible being around so many pelicans at one time. Sure..I would see a bunch in Florida, but nothing like this. There are plenty of young ones, and many are tagged. Although the tags are so small, I’m unable to read the full number and cannot find out where the birds truly came from.

The best viewing has been by boat and after a while, they get used to me staring at them with a big shiny eye.

It’s wonderful to know that the Eastern Coastal version of the Brown Pelican is doing so well. However, the Western Coastal version in California aren’t faring as well. Relying heavily on sardines as a food source, the Sardine supply is catastrophically low over the years due to over fishing. Many of the Brown Pelican rookeries are found with abandoned nests, unable to feed their chicks, these starving Pelicans are finding that in order to survive they have to change their food source resorting to Common Murres (water bird). Source:

So as with Nature, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. As citizens of this earth, we can strive to achieve balance with nature without placing too much strain on the food supply for our own desires. It’s been joyous to see these Pelicans on the Chesapeake Bay, and may their surging numbers continue for many years to come.

23 thoughts on “Brown Pelicans on the Chesapeake Bay

  1. Thank you for sharing. On a boat between Crisfield Island and Smith Island a couple months ago, I was amazed at all the pelicans. Mostly perched on channel markers and on abandoned wharfs. It always cracked me up at how ungraceful they are when they land in the bay!

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