Pelican Island

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					Pelican Island, Where Pelicans Come Home to Roost
If you've ever spent a late afternoon on the beaches of east central
Florida, you probably noticed the lines of brown pelicans flying south
around 5:00. Like many Space Coast workers, they're headed for home - in
this case, Pelican Island, located near Sebastian, Florida.
As you drive through the city of Sebastian, you will see signs proudly
announcing that Sebastian is the home of Pelican Island National Wildlife
Refuge. The Refuge consists of the three-acre Pelican Island and another
couple of acres of surrounding water in the Indian River Lagoon. The
Refuge was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 to protect
egrets and other birds from plume hunters, and bears the distinction of
being the first wildlife refuge in the United States. The Refuge is not
accessible to visitors, but there is a viewing tower located off Highway
A1A, approximately four miles south of the Sebastian Inlet Bridge, on
Jungle Trail Road. One can approach the Island by boat, but there are
markers indicating boundaries, and only Fish and Wildlife Service
employees are permitted on the Island.
Hundreds of brown pelicans return to this island to nest every year. The
peak nesting period for the brown pelican is April and May. Brown
pelicans nest in large colonies, and a typical nest is built in low
trees. Once the eggs are laid, incubation is accomplished with the eggs
on top of the parent's feet, with its belly resting on top of the eggs.
Both parents share in nesting activities. A typical nest will have two or
three eggs.
Hatching takes place about 38 days after the eggs are laid. Newly hatched
brown pelican chicks are pink in color and completely helpless. Within a
few days, their skin turns a grey-black. Their parents feed them pre-
digested fish - yummy! It takes six to nine pounds of fish each day to
feed a nest of three chicks. The young put their head as deep as they can
into the parent's gullet, causing the adults to regurgitate a meal.
Again, both parents share in the chick care duties.
Even at the tender age of six days, the chicks have a well-developed
pouch. Somewhere between the first and second week, a downy coat begins
to cover the bare skin. Parents brood the chicks to keep them warm (and
to keep them from getting sunburned) until the chicks are covered with
down. Within 20 to 30 days, the chicks have a coat of white down. Within
five weeks, feathers begin to show through the down, and the young birds
begin to venture off the nest onto nearby branches.
Young pelicans are capable of flight at around nine weeks of age, but the
parents continue to feed them for several more weeks. Interestingly
enough, adult brown pelicans are practically mute, but the youngsters are
very vocal and make lost of squeaks, squawks, and croaking sounds.
At an early age, young brown pelicans begin preening, which may be due to
constant itching as the feathers grow.
An adult brown pelican has a wingspan of about 6 1/2 feet. It takes about
three years for brown pelicans to attain adult plumage.
Other birds that call Pelican Island home include white pelicans (they
are only visitors - they don't nest on the Island), double crested
cormorants, great blue heron, great egrets, and woodstorks.
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