Pelican Eloquence

Getting to know the big birds in the sky


Populations of the popular brown pelican ebb and flow on St. John like the tides. This particular year has not been particularly plentiful, so when one whooshes by, I take notice. Pelicans may be bulbous in silhouette, but in flight they are graceful and majestic, with adult wing spans reaching 7 feet. Watching them dive for dinner is a favorite pastime, as they plunge down from the sky and hit the water like javelins. During mating season, the topside of a brown pelican’s neck turns dark brown and the underside bright yellow.

The pelicans found in St. John are technically called Pelecanus Occidentalis Carolinensis, which are slightly smaller than their cousins out west, the Pelecanus Occidentalis Californicus, who sport red throats instead of yellow in the spring. Around St. John, pelicans nest in the mangrove and sea grape trees that line the coastline. Both partners participate together to build the nest and care for the young. Baby pelicans are born without feathers and quite vulnerable during the 3 months before they leave their nest. Young pelicans can be seen enjoying their newfound freedom of flight along with the sea gull guests who arrive on St. John in late spring and stay for several months.