Migrating birds fly off course – Brown Pelicans in the desert?

We were privileged to document the noble Brown Pelican landing at Lakeside Park in Tucson. This impressive sea-bird extended its wings (almost 8′ wingspan) to brake before alighting on the water.

migrating birds in arizona
brown pelican in Tucson Arizona

Various migratory birds wind up off course due to bad weather and end up in Arizona lakes.

birds off course in arizona
pair of pelicans at Lakeside Park

Brown Pelicans have an extremely long bill with a large pouch attached on the lower half.  The pelicans pouch is used to catch fish.

endangered birds in arizona
Brown Pelicans have a long bill
Lakeside Park migratory birds
Pelicans in the Sonoran Desert

According to the LA Times, these odd looking large Brown Pelicans were nearly driven to extinction because of abuse from hunters and fishermen.

Hunters coveted its plumage and commercial fishermen believed pelicans were gobbling too many fish. These sea birds were also hurt by the effects of a chemical pesticide, DDT.  It is no wonder brown pelicans were placed on the federal endangered species list.

Louisiana’s state bird is the Brown Pelican.  This bird started to make a recovery, only to suffer again from the coastal damage incurred from the oil spills.

Louisiana state bird pelican
Brown Pelicans damaged by the oil spill

During the oil spill in 2010, this whole area was covered with oil, said P.J. Hahn, a coastal zone director in Louisiana.  The brown pelican was particularly at risk because it dives beneath the water’s surface to forage.

Dedicated teams worked diligently to save the brown pelicans after the massive oil spill.

brown pelican bird
Volunteers helping the Brown Pelican during an oil spill

(above photo courtesy of http://www.latimes.com/  Los Angeles Times)

Are Brown Pelicans, still on the endangered species list?

The Brown Pelican finally came off the endangered species list in 2009.   Now, there is a growing fear history could repeat itself because there is not enough habitat for the birds to nest.

migratory birds in the desert
pair of brown pelicans in Arizona

One of the most prominent characteristics to observe for this large pelican, also called the California Brown Pelican, is the way it forages for food.  It dives beneath the water surface.  Pelicans simply catch the fish in their pouch, drain the water out and swallow the fish immediately.

pelicans in the desert
Brown Pelican plunge for fish
sea birds in arizona
Large pouch of the Brown Pelican bird

Watching the Pelicans effortlessly fly, gallantly dive, and methodically fish was one of the highlights of our year!

These Sea Birds can facilely glide low over the water; so low their wingtips often brush the waves – with occasional slow, powerful wing beats to gain speed.

Brown pelicans in the desert
Lakeside Park migrating birds – pelicans

Brown Pelican birds are the only pelican to plunge dive to catch their prey, other species of pelicans fish from the surface of the water.

wing span of brown pelican bird
Brown Pelican’s wing span can reach 7 feet

They can be seen performing a surface plunge from as high as 20 meters to catch their prey!

pelican birds in tucson phoenix
Brown Pelican dives to collect fish

Click below to watch a short video of Brown Pelicans diving for fish:

In flight, the Brown Pelicans hold their head back on their shoulders and rest their bill on their folded neck.

pelicans in tucson lakes - lakeside
Brown Pelican amazing flight and wing span

Pairs of Brown Pelicans are monogamous for a single season but the pair bond extends only to the nesting area; away from the nest, mates are independent.

Pelicans blown off course in Tucson
Brown Pelicans in Arizona

From the fossil record, it is known that pelicans have been around for over 40 million years.  Brown Pelicans live on both coasts in the United States.

Lakeside Park pelican heron egret Arizona
Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret

Nesting and roosting birds are very sensitive to human disturbance, load noises from boats etc…  Nest disturbance is the biggest reason for a bird to abandon its nest. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to tamper with, or destroy active nests of native wild birds. If there are eggs or babies – you cannot touch the nest or harass the birds in any way.

Brown Pelicans reach sexual maturity at 3-5 years of age.  Adult Brown Pelicans have few natural predators.

migrating birds in Arizona
Great Blue Heron and Brown Pelican at Lakeside Park

Quick Brown Pelican Facts:

  • Young pelicans feed by sticking their bills into their parents’ throats
  • Pelicans build large nest structures on the ground, in trees, or on vegetation
  • The nesting season can extend from January through October
  • Brown pelicans normally lay three eggs and the adults share incubation duties
  • They can dive from 60 feet in the air
  • Brown pelicans can live up to 40 years old
  • A pelican’s throat pouch can hold over 2 gallons of water

If you see Brown Pelicans in Arizona PLEASE Call AZ Game and Fish at 520-290-9453 and let them know.

Great Blue Heron in AZ – Facts and pictures about this Wading Bird

The Great Blue Heron is sometimes seen flapping casually over the desert. It hunts in typical heron fashion; standing by the water’s edge to skewer fish or clinch other aquatic creatures.

Ardea herodias,  North American herons
Great Blue Heron in Tucson Arizona, Ardea herodias

This towering bird is the most common and largest of North American herons. The Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, is in the family, Ardeidae.

grey blue wading birds Arizona
Great Blue Heron bird fishing

This wading bird is found as far north as the southern Canadian provinces.  ** From the southern United States southwards and on the Pacific coast,  Great Blue Herons are year round residents.

Arizona desert birds by water
Great Blue Heron, tallest Heron bird

As a rule, Great Blue Herons feed while standing still or leisurely wading in shallow water; it strikes at small fish swimming by with its spear-like bill.

blue heron bird exhibit
Great Blue Heron exhibit at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

You will find Great Blue Herons close to bodies of water and routinely nesting in bushes or trees.

AZ tall Wading birds with blue gray feathers
Great Blue Heron bird

These stately herons are expert fishers. Great Blues capture their prey by walking slowly, or standing still for long periods of time and waiting for fish to come within range of their long necks and blade-like bills.  Talk about patience!

It is not uncommon for a heron to make a 20 or even 30 mile round trip in its quest for a worthy foraging site.

tall wading birds in Arizona Desert
Great Blue Heron at Agua Caliente Park in Tucson

A Great Blue Heron’s deathblow is delivered with a quick thrust of their sharp bill, and then the prey is swallowed whole. Though these birds are best known as fishers;  mice and frogs are also part of their diet.

  • How tall is a Great Blue Heron?  Their height is 3.5 to 4.5 ft  (1.2 to 1.4 meters).
  • What is the Great Blue Heron’s wingspan?  Up to 6.7 ft  (2 meters).
grey birds that look like dinosaurs
wingspan of the Great Blue Heron

How fast can the Great Blue Heron Fly?  This large heron can cruise at 20-30 miles per hour.  (32 to 48 kilometers)

fishing birds flying in Arizona
wing span of the Great Blue Heron

The mature Great Blue Heron has plumes on the lower back at the start of the breeding season.

Below is a short,  incredible video of a deer with a Great Blue Heron.

A heron’s bill is dull yellow, becoming orange briefly at the start of the breeding season.  Their lower legs which are gray will also become orange at the start of the breeding season.

wading bird with long legs and gray feathers
older Great Blue Heron bird with long feathers

Young Great Blue Herons are duller in color, with a blackish-gray crown, and the pattern on the flank only weakly defined; the young herons have no plumes, and the bill is dull gray-yellow.

Great Blue Herons breed in colonies. The male chooses the nest site and displays to attract a female.

pair of heron birds  in Arizona
Male and Female Great Blue Herons with orange bill for breeding season

Great Blue Herons prefer their nest site in a tree 20 to 60 feet above the ground, although shrubs are sometimes used.  The female lays 2 to 7 eggs in a platform made of sticks.

Great Blue Heron in a nest of sticks
nest of the Great Blue Heron

The eggs, which are protected and incubated by both parents, hatch in 25 to 30 days. Herons feed their young regurgitated matter.  Chicks can survive on their own by about two months of age.

large heron wading bird
a young Great Blue Heron in Tucson Arizona

These dignified birds have exemplary eye sight and that is how they locate their food.  Great Blue Herons feed at the water’s edge both day and night; typically dawn and dusk.

My dogs rolling in the grass! Labrador and Jack Russell

Shadow, our Labrador / Shepherd mix, and Trigger, our Jack Russell Terrier, just love to roll in the grass!

our labrador loves grass
our labrador loves playing on grass

We live in the Arizona Sonoran desert with Mesquite trees and cacti as our only neighbors.  Unfortunately, grass does not exist near our home.

Labrador Mix and Jack Russell
Labrador Mix and Jack Russell

When mom places the dog collars on Shadow and Trigger, the tails start wagging!  Our dogs know we are taking a trip to Lakeside Park in Tucson, AZ.

Our Jack Russell loves grass
a grass filled park in Tucson , AZ

It is so fun to watch Trigger, our tenacious Jack Russell Terrier, sprint to the middle of the park, turn upside down and swirl back and forth in the bed of grass.

Trigger upside down in the grass
Jack Russell Terrier rolling in the grass
Shadow
A happy black Labrador mix, Shadow

Shadow is one happy, content dog.  He has a fun, gentle demeanor that is common for Labrador retrievers.

Lakeside Park in Tucson offers fishing, picnics and of course rolling and romping in the grass!  http://www.azgfd.gov/h_f/urban_lake_lakeside.shtml

Trigger
Jack Russell Terrier, Trigger