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Flight of the Brown Pelican

by Shayne Benowitz

A feeding frenzy near the Westin Marina.

A feeding frenzy near the Westin Marina.

There is something I find compelling about pelicans. Although they live in Key West all year long, for whatever reason, I notice them in abundance during the winter months. This may be due to the fact that this time of year is their mating and nesting season. Painter and ornithologist John Audubon also found Key West’s brown pelican to be an interesting specimen to behold. Audubon first traveled to Key West in 1832 where he sighted and drew 18 new species of birds including the pelican.

The brown pelicans are a fearless and social bird species that live and nest in large colonies throughout the shallow sand flats and mangroves of the Florida Keys. I remember noticing them my first winter in Key West when they seemed abundant along the Westin Marina. Walking down the wooden docks towards the catamarans, I would notice a pelican waddling ahead of me some mornings. They are funny little guys with a squatty body folded up like an accordion. Their fluffy heads with long, protruding bills are folded on top of their compact bodies and wings with short legs and wide webbed feet supporting them. They just seem to have a lot of personality.

When you approach them, they promptly launch off of the dock, stretching out for a moment, and flapping their long wings towards safety. On the water, you can see them circling up to 70 feet high above the water. They’re fishing. Their eyesight is incredibly strong and when they spot a school of fish close to the water’s surface, they dive bomb straight down and scoop up lunch with their expandable pouch bill as if it were a cast-net.

This morning, as Captain Marius and I left the marina aboard the new Fury Flyer parasail boat, there was a feeding frenzy going on at the mouth of the marina. A couple of pelicans, as well as seagulls, were diving into the water where a school of fish was flipping around right at the surface. It was a pretty cool spectacle to see up close and personal as the water’s surface was splashed up with all of this wildlife activity. The brown pelican is actually an endangered species in most parts of the United States, but in Florida they have been taken off the list. They seem to be thriving here in Key West.

Shayne Benowitz is a Fury crewmember and freelance writer working on her debut novel. For more travel stories and a daily dose of what’s cool around the globe visit her Wanderlust Website at http://web.me.com/shaynebeth.

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