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  • Jacqueline Deely

Love is in the Trees!

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Brown pelicans are the dinosaurs of the skies and I never tire of seeing them gliding in formation across the surface of the water or plunging head first as they dive for fish. With fall migration well underway, there are literally thousands of these bird visiting our shores here in Monterey Bay and in unprecedented numbers.


On an recent excursion to nearby Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, I was blown away by the sheer number occupying this incredibly beautiful piece of real estate. Not only were they in the water and on surrounding rocks, but also filling the trees!

Juvenile & Adult Brown Pelicans
Juvenile & Adult Brown Pelicans

Pelicans in trees is not something I would expect to see as I normally associate them with rocks, beaches or even docks and piers. With their large, ungainly bodies, massive wingspans and big, webbed feet, you would wonder how landing in a tree is even possible? But the dense foliage of the Monterey Cypress trees seems to provide a stable platform to land upon, rest and apparently mate!


While viewing in amazement at the spectacle of all these birds in the trees, I was suddenly treated to a rare viewing of a mating pair. Something I have never seen or would ever have expected to see and least of all in a tree!

Mating California Brown Pelicans
Mating Pair

Brown pelicans are monogamous breeders within a breeding season, but they do not pair for life. Curious to see mating birds at this time of year; an excerpt from the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology's, Animal Diversity Web, provided me with an explanation.


The breeding season of brown pelicans varies with latitude, often coinciding with local food abundance. In south California, egg laying starts in December, lasts until early August and peaks between February and May. In the Gulf of California, egg laying is November until May.


There is also an assumption that the birds we see here along the coast nest here too, but sadly that is not the case; although there was a time when they nested at Point Lobos. The only breeding colonies in the western United States are within Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Santa Barbara on West Anacapa and Santa Barbara islands and extends south to central Mexico. Pelicans leave the Gulf of California after breeding, cross the Baja peninsula, and migrate as far north as British Columbia, returning south to breeding areas by the following winter. So it is possible these particular birds are getting an early start and will be heading back south soon?


Pelicans in trees is not such an unusual thing, they are birds after all! They will both mate and potentially make their nests in trees, but may also make nests on the ground. So I think it all depends on the environment they are in.

Adult California Brown Pelican
Adult California Brown Pelican

California brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) have made an incredible comeback after being federally listed as endangered in 1971 due to the affects of the pesticide DDT and it was only in 2009 that they were finally delisted.


To me they epitomize the beauty of the California coast and I for one am glad they are back and here to stay.

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