Charlie the Brown Pelican a Favorite for Visitors
Walking on the Oceanside Pier
I have spent thousands of hours cruising the California coastline taking
pictures of landscapes, special events, harbor seals, pelicans, action sports and a host of other subjects but rarely if ever have I stumbled upon a subject as fun and entertaining as I did last week taking pictures of “Charlie the Pelican”.
Charlie is a brown pelican who along with 4 other pelicans have made a home on the Oceanside pier entertaining guests and also eating anchovies from the Pier Bait shop owned by Ed and Pam Gonsalves.
Pam and Ed purchased the bait shop in May of 2008 and soon after Ed brought Charlie down from a rough section of the pier where there was a bait cleaning station. According to locals Charlie had been hanging out on the pier for about 5 years scronging for scaps from local fisherman and had already been a “local” in the Oceanside area.
Soon after Charly began spending more time by the bait shop other younger pelicans started showing up to eat anchovies provided by tourists and fisherman calling it a day and throwing their bait away.
70 percent of pelicans do not make it to maturity and the brown pelican is currently on the endangered species list. Shooting for feathers and to “protect” fishing caused declines in pelican populations in the first half of the 20th century. Pesticide poisoning, especially by DDT, caused severe declines across the range in the late 1950’s and the extirpation from Louisiana (“the pelican state”). It was listed as Endangered throughout the range in 1970. The ban on DDT led to a population recovery, and it was removed from the Endangered Species list in Atlantic Coast states in 1985. Breeding numbers in most states are stable or increasing, and the total population in the United States now exceeds historical levels.
I have tried for years to shoot pelicans walking along the shoreline and also shooting them from The Ocean Beach Pier and Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach.
Never have I ever run across such tame pelicans that will sit and pose for photos as I did on the Oceanside pier with Charlie and his friends.
As is the case with most coastal animals and birds there are always those who need to tease and provoke the animals for “fun”. In the hour or so time I was there I witnesses and filmed a fisherman got after Charlie with a fishing pole (which I have documented on film), a lady trying to poke the bird with a cane “to see if he would go after it” and a number of unintelligent camera goes who felt that they needed to be less that a foot away for get a “good shot”. I have seen the same kind of activity before at The La Jolla Childrens Pool where visitors have kicked seals and stuck their kids and family members within 12 inches of the animals, despite hearing the seals give warnings that they are too close. The sad part is that the “humans” act more like animals than the “animals” do. If I had someone stick a cane in my face or get up as close in my face to get a “photo” as some of the goofballs do when taking photos of the birds or seals I would retaliate as well…..who wouldn’t when someone is getting up in your face or trying to poke you with something? You can get great photos and still be 5-6 feet away so why do you have to get within a foot? It makes no sense at all and is good reason for a roped off section on the pier.
Fortunately the majority of visitors respect the pelicans and take and enjoy photos from a safe distance.
“We need to put up a rope barrier to give the pelicans a safe spot where they can hang out”, said Ed. “Hopefully the City of Oceanside will realize the pelicans are a great resource for the City of Oceanside and give permission for a small roped of section for the birds”.
Ed is right. The pelicans are amazing and beautiful birds and a great treasure for the City of Oceanside and its visitors. Pelicans can get up to an 8 foot wingspan and live up to 35 years in age and in addition to being very majestic they also have amazing skills which enable them to skim inches above the waters surface in addition to “dive bombing” into the water at nearly 30+ miles per hour to catch fish. I will never forget some of the shots I first took of pelicans on the Ocean Beach Pier 6 years ago and how in awe I was to see these huge birds going straight into the water from heights of up to 35 feet in the air. For a bird that weighs up to 35 pounds with an 8 foot wingspan, it is an amazing sight.
The people who come to watch and feed the pelicans include a wide age group and demographic. “I had a marine who just got back from Iraq who spent over an hour feeding the pelicans as therapy to get back to civilian life”, said Ed who sells bags of anchovies for $4.00 per bag. “Senior citizens, families and ordinary passers by all stop by the bait shop to buy anchovies for the pelicans.
As for myself, I spend a large time photographing the California coast and rarely, if ever, have I ever had so much fun going out on a photo shoot as I did hanging out with Charlie and his brown pelican friends on the Oceanside Pier.
The pelicans are a great treasure for the City of Oceanside and the general public who can get an upclose look at one of the most beatiful and majestic birds on the planet. It would be great to see the City of Oceanside to acknowledge Charlie and the other younger pelicans as a great resource for tourists and visitors of the area and set up a small roped off section to prevent harrassment of these birds.
If you are looking for a great way to spend a morning or afternoon come check out Oceanside and the Oceanside Pier and meet Charlie and his other brown pelican friends. A $4.00 bag of anchovies will bring you a ton of laughs, fun and also some amazing photos. Don’t forget to say hello to Ed and his wife Pam and tell them you saw them on the SoCal Beaches Magazine blog. Of all the hundreds of articles I have ever shot along the California coastline in the last 7 years this experience I had with the pelicans on the Oceanside Pier rates as one of the BEST EVER!
Charlie is a great ambassador for pelicans everywhere showing that like any wild animal that they deserve respect and a place in our coastal community.
Cool Brown Pelican Facts
While the Brown Pelican is draining the water from its bill after a dive, gulls often try to steal the fish right out of its pouch. They sometimes even perch on the pelican’s head or back and reach in. The pelican itself, however, is not above stealing fish from other seabirds. It also follows fishing boats and hangs around piers for handouts.
- The Brown Pelican frequently lowers its head onto its shoulders with the bill open, pulls its head back, and stretches the pouch over its throat and neck. The exposed neck looks like a large lump sticking up out of the pouch.
- Unlike most birds, which warm their eggs with the skin of their breasts, pelicans incubate their eggs with their feet. They hold the eggs under the webs that stretch from the front toes to the hind toe, essentially standing on the eggs to warm them. This peculiar incubation method made them vulnerable to the effects of the pesticide DDT. The DDT made the eggshells thin, and the incubating parents frequently cracked their eggs.
- The Peruvian race of the Brown Pelican, found along the Pacific Coast of South America from southern Ecuador to Chile, is sometimes considered a separate species. It is larger than the other races, has fine white streaking on the feathers of the underparts, and has a blue pouch in the breeding season. Otherwise, it looks and acts like a Brown Pelican, found in similar coastal environments and plunge-diving for food.For more information on brown pelicans visit
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