In the Sibley Guide to Birds I illustrated Pacific and Atlantic/Gulf populations of Brown Pelican, showing different colors on the throat pouch (red on adult Pacific and olive on immature Pacific; always dark gray on Atlantic birds) and suggesting that these colors could identify the two populations. It turns out that Brown Pelicans in Texas can also show bright red pouches fairly frequently during the nesting season, so this is not a reliable way to distinguish Pacific and Atlantic birds.
A photo from Texas by Frank Johnson here, prompted John Arvin to say “Red bare parts in the bill/face area seem to be throughout the Brown Pelican population when in high breeding condition. Many individuals in the lower Laguna Madre area show this color.” (11 Mar 2003, Texbirds listserve) and Brush Freeman suggests that 10-15% of Texas pelicans show this color.
Noel Wamer had previously written to me about a bird in Florida Bay, FL, which was the first reported in Florida as far as he knew. I think I remember hearing of others since then in Florida and I would be interested in knowing of any.
Sometime around 1970 there was apparently a reintroduction program which brought Brown Pelicans to Texas after the population had been decimated by DDT. Noel Wamer wondered whether some of these birds were from the Pacific and could have introduced the red pouch genes to the Gulf. On the other hand, banding records show a substantial number of birds moving across Central America from Pacific to Caribbean and vice versa, so there is probably plenty of natural gene flow between the two oceans.
- Are red-pouched pelicans as frequent in Florida as they are in Texas? (So far the answer seems to be “no”).
- Are they truly rare or just overlooked on the Atlantic coast of Florida and farther north?
- Do immatures and nonbreeding adults of the red-pouched birds in the Gulf have pale yellow-olive pouches, as they do in California?
- Do some pelicans on the Pacific coast have dark gray pouches?