The Brown Pelican (Pelicanus occidentalis) has become a well-known visitor to the Northwest coast. Arriving from southerly breeding grounds in early summer, these gregarious seabirds can be seen in Oregon and Washington waters, flying low over the waves or propelling themselves into the sea in pursuit of fish. With a wingspan stretching up to eight feet and weighing in at 6-12 pounds, the Brown Pelican is hard to miss.
These iconic creatures haven't always been observable on the Northwest coast. Population numbers plummeted in the middle of the last century, largely due to the accumulation of DDT in marine waters and consequently in the Brown Pelicans' food supply. The pesticide enfeebled eggshells and the birds' reproductive success flatlined. Threatened also by hunting and widespread loss of coastal habitat, Brown Pelicans were estimated at fewer than 5,000 breeding pairs and in 1970 found their way onto the list of Endangered Species. Conservation efforts, including the 1972 banning of DDT, led to the steady recovery of population numbers and in 1982, the first substantial pelican migration in decades was observed in Oregon. Recent counts estimate 650,000 Brown Pelicans throughout North and Central America, and the bird was removed from the Endangered Species list at the end of last year.
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