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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. Visitors to East Central Florida will find Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast as indispensable as sunscreen! The DVD and six UV-coated reference cards describe Brevard County's beaches and the natural treasures to be found there. Florida has its own native culture that inspires art, fashion, movies and TV shows. Florida's distinct character inspired Florida Pictures.
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