Brown pelican in Adirondacks

For the past week, Adirondack birders have been marveling about a brown pelican first spotted on Fourth Lake in the Old Forge-Inlet region.

Normally, brown pelicans reside along coasts in more southern climes. They breed as far north as Virginia in summer and live year-round along the Gulf Coast. It’s the state bird of Louisiana.pelican1

John M.C. Peterson, one of the authors of Adirondack Birding, says this is the first brown pelican seen in this neck of the woods. Peterson keeps records of bird sightings in the Adirondack-Champlain region for the New York State Ornithological Association. As defined by the association, the region encompasses most of the Adirondack Park and some territory outside it.

Carolyn Belknap, an avid birder with a camp on Fourth Lake, took several photos of the pelican, one of which appears here. She had heard about the bird from e-mails on the Northern New York Birds online-discussion group.

“My encounter was pretty much dumb luck,” she wrote the Explorer.  “I was kayaking with my ten-year-old niece and two visitors. My niece suggested we go across the lake, so we paddled to Eagle Creek, a small creek off of the north shore of Fourth Lake right across from our camp. The pelican was on a dock at the entrance to the creek, waiting for us. I was fortunate to have my good camera with me. The pelican was standing so still, that at first I didn’t register that it was alive!”

A few days after the initial sightings, the bird turned up on Lows Lake. Jeff Nadler, whose bird photos often appear in the Explorer, said the bird jumped onto the kayak of a friend’s daughter, apparently hoping for a handout.

The pelican is banded, so birders are hoping to find out where it came from.

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. cindy says

    I’ve read the pelican as of 8/29 has passed away. My sons (from Ohio) had the pleasure of seeing this grand bird while staying at Rocky Point on Inlet on 8/19. they have photos (with camera phone only) and remarked how tame the bird was and appeared hungry;

  2. Carolyn Belknap says

    The following note was posted to the Oneida Birds e-mail group:

    Hello to those people I see posting about the pelican on the NNY birds website.

    I am the licensed rehabilitator who took in the Pelican after a stressful full day of capture, transport to vet, evaluation, transport to me, etc Wednesday night. I immediately contacted Dr. Miller at Tri State Bird Rehabilitation and Rescue in Delaware as they handle large quantities of pelicans. Dr. Miller advised me on its care and transport to them. It arrived in Delaware on Friday.

    The pelican was banded in Maryland in July 2001 and was an adult male. It did die and the final necropsy results are pending, but the first assessment is:

    “The bird was emaciated and had lots of lice, but you knew that. It was a male; liver was a little enlarged, adrenals were very large (chronic stress), surprisingly NO internal parasites other than mites in the subcutaneous air sacs. I saved back tissues in formalin and frozen and will consult with Mark Pokras on Monday as to what additional tests he thinks would be worth running. Thanks for all the effort. Sorry it didn’t have a better ending.”

    I have to comment that the pelican was vomiting large quantities of partially digested fishing worms and styrofoam pieces from a container while with me. This could not have helped. It was unable to eat large fish, but could swallow the small smelt. It did not eliminate waste however. The bird was extremely debilitated when it reached me. I wish it could have received me sooner.

    Apparently people had been watching if for a few weeks. I guess we can all learn a lesson from this, When a bird is not in its normal location, it surely means something is wrong. Pelicans are social and would not be moving around as individual birds.

    Like all birds, they appear fine & healthy all the time until just hours from death. No bird should look like a sick bird. They may be in a terrible state but will still look “healthy”. That is what often fools us, and is why rehabilitators don’t always get birds to them in time to help much. The clue here was that it was out of place habitat wise and unafraid of people. I’m sorry I didn’t see the postings about it sooner but wasn’t online with this. Next time birders see something out of place, please try to report it to either DEC or Cornell Wildlife unit for assessment.

    Amy Freiman

    State & Federal licensed rehabilitator

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