On Monday, November 11, our island in the sun celebrated a longstanding friendship between the Dutch and French sides. Did you take part in any St. Maarten/St. Martin Day activities with your school or family? The line-up included an amazing parade. Check out our KIDS Herald picture page for some fun holiday pictures! Our national bird is the Brown Pelican. This bird is depicted on the St. Maarten flag as well as on the St. Martin Unity flag. Let’s learn a bit more about this icon.
Did you know?
We aren’t the only island that holds the Brown Pelican as an important symbol. It is also the national bird of St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and is the state bird of Louisiana in the United States. It is also depicted on the crest of the University of the West Indies.
There are eight species of Pelicans. All of them have a defining feature: a throat pouch, which they are well known for. However, only the Brown Pelican lives primarily on coastal shores, and is one of just two that make dramatic dives into the water to catch fish. It is the smallest species in the pelican family.
Brown Pelicans are strong swimmers and skilful fliers. Their excellent vision allows them to spot fish from as high as 70 feet.
Brown Pelicans spot their prey from high up in the sky, and then make dramatic, steep dives into the water to catch the fish. This is done at 60- or even 90-degree angles. Remember, 90 degrees means a straight line down into the water!
To protect themselves from the impact of hitting the water, they inflate special air sacs beneath their skin. This protects their internal organs and prevents the birds from getting hurt.
These same air sacs make them buoyant, which means they won’t sink down into the water, but will easily pop back up to the surface.
After catching their prey along with lots of water, they’ll tip their bills down, letting the water drain out, and then swallow their catch.
Some other birds, pesky gulls in particular, will often try to steal fish from the Brown Pelican’s pouch while the pelicans are draining this water. After all of that work… are you kidding me?!
A Brown Pelican’s pouch near its bill can hold much more water than its belly can; the pouch can hold about three gallons of water, while the belly can only hold about one gallon.
Brown Pelicans can be found in coastal areas, as far North as Canada, and as far south as northern Peru/northern Brazil. They migrate (between north and south) within this range, and can be found year round in coastal beaches and lagoons on different Caribbean islands. They tend to live on small islands, away from populated areas.
While they can be found on different parts of our island, the most important spot for Brown Pelicans here is near Fort Amsterdam (near Great Bay).
These birds will lay two to four eggs, and incubate them under their feet. The baby birds are able to fly and fend for themselves after just three months.
Pelicans are extremely similar to their ancestors, going way, way back. The modern pelican is placed into the same genus as ancient pelican fossils. This shows that very little has changed over the past 30- to 40-million years. Wow!
Brown Pelicans show us how successful wildlife conservation efforts can be. They nearly disappeared from North America between the late 1950s and early 1970s because of pesticides. Some pesticides killed them, and some made their eggs very fragile, which meant that the eggs would break under the weight of the parents’ feet while they were incubating them.
They were listed as endangered in the 1970s because of this. However, Florida and other states banned the harmful pesticides, and the population started to grow again. They were removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2009.