Brown Pelicans on Mustang Island

by Dee Hudson Photography

Photographing at Mustang Island State Park

Brown Pelican floating on the water

The long unusual beak and the large body size give the Brown Pelican a prehistoric appearance.

The Brown Pelican, with its prehistoric appearance, a 6–foot wingspan and an expanding throat pouch, has always fascinated me. As the pelican is one of my favorite birds, I was thrilled when I had an incredible opportunity to photograph this large 9–pound bird, at Mustang Island State Park, located along the Texas seacoast.

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The Amazing Throat Pouch

Brown Pelican with a gaping mouth

The pelican just swallowed his fish, so his mouth is gaping open.

The pelicans feed on small, herring–like fish, using their expanding pouches to scoop their prey right out of the water. When they compress the pouch, the water drains right out and then they toss back their heads and swallow their meal whole (birds have zero teeth!). I was fortunate to capture some great images of the pouch gaping open as the pelicans tossed back their food to swallow.

Catching Their Food

Brown Pelican rides the waves

The Brown Pelican fishes in strong ocean waves.

To capture fish, the pelican usually executes an incredible head–first–plunging dive into the water. However, at Mustang Island, the fish they eat were very abundant, so the pelicans would just float on the water’s surface, submerging their beak to scoop up their prey. Pictured is a pelican using its wings to help ride along on a strong wave while fishing.

In Flight

The pelican is so large and moves very awkwardly on land, but once this bird lifts into the air, it soars with grace and beauty. The pelican really creates a stunning image as it raises its long wings to power itself out of the water. Once in the air, the pelican flaps with slow and powerful strokes. I especially enjoy watching the pelican glide above the water, just barely skimming the surface.