Dispersal of Brown Pelicans from a Natal Site in Bay County, Florida, with an Update on Brown Pelican Status in Florida

From 1982 through 1994, 1,086 brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) pre-fledglings were banded with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aluminum bands in a spoil island nesting colony in St. Andrews Bay, Bay County, Florida. The colony was newly established the year banding was initiated and at the time constituted the only nesting colony on the Florida panhandle Gulf coast, with the nearest colonies being 250 km to the west in Louisiana and 165 km to the east near Cedar Key, Levy County, Florida. Excluding band recoveries from birds < 1 year old (N = 24) from the immediate vicinity of the colony, 49 bands were recovered. Banded birds had dispersed both westerly/southwesterly (N = 20, longest distance: the Republic of Panama) and easterly/southeasterly (N = 27, longest distance: Cuba), with no apparent preferential pattern either way. Two of the returns were from >1-year-old birds from the vicinity of the colony, perhaps indicating some degree of site fidelity. Some band returns indicated fledglings from the Bay County colony contributed to at least 3 new nesting colonies being established on the Gulf Coast, 1 on Gaillard Island in Mobile Bay, Alabama, in 1983 (≈210 km to the west); 1 on Lanark Island, Franklin County, Florida, in 1994 (110 km to the east); and 1 on Palmetto Island in Oyster Bay, Wakulla County, Florida, in 1995 (129 km to the east). Bay County birds may have been primarily, if not altogether, responsible for the establishment of the latter 2 colonies. The statewide Florida brown pelican population remains relatively stable following a peak in the late 1980s, with an annual average of 9,834 nests distributed among 40 colonies from 1992 through 1995, comparable to numbers documented in 1991 (10,208 nests, 37 colonies).

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