What flies with a large pouch and never has to go through airport security? A California Brown Pelican!

Pelicans form graceful V-shaped formations hunting for schools of fish.

The California Brown Pelican stops by for a couple of weeks each year in Bandon. One of the best places to watch these large birds as they plunge-dive for fish is on Jetty Road SW near the mouth of the Coquille River in Bandon, Oregon.

How big?

California Brown Pelicans are hard to miss with a wingspan of nearly 79-inches and a body length of 54-inches! Their size is further underscored when they fly in neat, V-shaped formations over the surf hunting for schools of fish.

Diving

As they plunge into the water, their famed three-gallon throat pouch scoops up their prey. Only the California Brown and a closely related Peruvian species make these spectacular plunging sideline dives into the water. There are ten pelican species.

Where to find them

Pelicans congregate in large numbers at the mouth of several Oregon bays during migration. You will often see them roosting on rocky formations, pilings or peers or hear their loud “screaming” call.

They migrate to/from winter breeding grounds in southern California and Mexico. They range from Vancouver Island, Canada to northern South America. Approximately 20,000 pelicans living on the Oregon coast in the summer.

Caution!

They can also be comical panhandlers and may beg from humans. They often hang out looking for opportunistic snacks such as fish scraps, crustaceans, lizards, smaller birds or eggs, turtles, etc.  U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife has warned the public to:
–Not feed the birds (human foods can injure or lead to starvation),
–Leave the birds alone (if they are hanging out here, they are not breeding), and
–Avoid attempting to pet them or interact with them (no selfies please!).

Recovery

These magnificent dare devils were recently removed from the endangered list in December (2019). They are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is illegal to capture, kill, or possess a California Brown Pelican. Each violation comes with a maximum punishment of $15,000 in fines and six months in jail.

For more information check: US Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Bandon Marsh site at https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Bandon_Marsh/wildlife_and_habitat/waterfowl.html

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Pelicans and Cormorants at https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/pelicans-and-cormorants (there is a link so you can hear their calls near the bottom of the page).
Brown pelicans lingering on Oregon Coast see: https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2010/01/brown_pelicans_overstaying_the.html

Mallard ducks tolerate humans… maybe a little too well.

Mallard ducks are the most abundant and widespread waterfowl in the Northern Hemisphere. They are found from Arctic tundra to subtropical regions on every continent.

Mallard female and male (green head). Photo ODFW.

In Oregon, Mallards are found near coastal and inland marshes, fresh or salt water wetlands and estuaries; lakes, ponds, and rivers; and golf courses and agriculture fields. They are particularly attracted to shallow water with aquatic vegetation.

Flexible Omnivore

Mallards are flexible omnivorous eaters and will vary their diet based on breeding cycle, availability, and migration. As a general rule they primarily eat, or dabble, plant materials. They will also dabble gastropods (slugs, snails, etc.), invertebrates (flies, beetles), crustaceans (crab, shrimp, barnacles, etc.), worms, and frogs. They have also been observed hunting as a flock other small birds and larger animals.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife urge people to not feed geese and ducks. Feeding can create a concentration problem and invites disease outbreaks.

One Eye Open

Not only will they eat many different animals, but many different animals will eat them. Predators could include raptors (like eagles, falcons, harriers, owls, etc.), mammals (such as snakes, raccoons, skunks, cats, dogs, etc.) and others who target eggs and nestlings.

The ability to sleep with one eye open was first demonstrated in mallards, but is not believed to be widespread among birds. This ability allows one brain hemisphere to sleep, while the other is aware.

And Humans…

Ducks were domesticated at least 4,000 years ago in many areas for their meat and eggs. Pure bred Mallards are sometimes domesticated today for their meat and eggs. 

Almost all domestic duck breeds can be traced back to Mallards. Domestic ducks and Mallards are the same species, with some of the same genes. Mallards have the ability to cross breed with 63 other duck species and create fertile hybrid offspring. This ability can dilute a duck breed population and cause severe ‘genetic pollution’ leading to the extinction of wild, indigenous waterfowl. They are considered an invasive species in some areas.  

Mallards are the most common variety of ducks hunted for sport due to high population volumes. They are also considered to be quite tasty. Be sure to check with local regulations before hunting or taking any bird.

Caution

Mallards can become aggressive during the breeding season as they compete and work out territorial disputes. Aggressive behavior can include charging and chases, ripping out feathers and skin, and noise making. Males are generally more aggressive and will repeatedly attack each other. Domestic ducks are significantly less aggressive than mallards.

STATS: Color: breeding males have a solid, dark green head, reddish-brown breast, and pale body; males and females have bright blue patch on trailing edge of wings. Size will vary: overall length, 147 cm (23 inches); wingspan, 89 cm (35 inches). May migrate. Feathers: Special oils let feathers easily shed water. Mallards are adapted for swimming and floating, and some are even talented divers.

REFERENCES
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife pages: Swans, Ducks, and Geese (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/swans-ducks-and-geese) and Game Birds, Mallard (https://myodfw.com/game-bird-hunting/species/mallard, and pamphlet Living with Birds (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/birds.asp)
–Wikipedia, Mallard (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mallard)

What graceful bird has bright yellow feet that are rarely seen because they are in the mud?

Photo from ODFW.

The bright yellow feet of the adult Snowy Egret are typically hidden by the mud and shallow water. The younger birds have dull yellowish legs and feet. The distinctive foot (yellow) and bill (black) colors make this bird easy to identify compared to other herons.

Habitat

Snowy Egrets forage the marshes and wetlands along the Oregon coast. The bright white feathers make the bird easy to see particularly as it stands still, closely watching its prey and poising for an ambush.

Prey can insects and worms, crustaceans, fish and crayfish, reptiles, snails, and worms. They will also startle prey through movements such as head sways and wing flicks, or through sounds, stab prey with their beaks, and take prey stirred up by other animals (such as cows).  

Too beautiful

At one time, the distinctive bright white feathers growing along the bird’s nape and neck captured too much attention. Egrets were overhunted in North America for these stylish hat decorations until 1910. Populations have increased.

Check out the bright yellow feet. Photo from Unsplash.

On the rebound

The Snowy egret is an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species in the Northern Basin and Range ecoregion and protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The birds breed eastern Oregon and in several southern U.S. states from California to Mississippi and throughout Central America. Snowy Egrets can be found year around in South America.

Where to look

The Snowy Egret is native and very common on the southern Oregon coast and likes to hang out near estuaries (such as Haynes Inlet near North Bend and along the Coos Bay), salt marshes (Isthmus Slough), flooded agricultural fields (like along the Coquille River drainage near Coquille) and mudfields, pond edges, and other shallow waters. A full-grown Snowy Egret is about two feet tall and has a wing span of nearly 40-inches.  

Where to learn more:
–All about birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snowy_Egret/id)
–ebird, Merlin, Cornell Lab of Ornithology (https://ebird.org/species/snoegr)
–Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/bitterns-herons-and-egrets)