How do pelicans stay warm during the cold months?

Brown Pelican in Sebastian, Florida.
Brown Pelican in Sebastian, Florida.

People often ask how our native and the American white pelicans handle the weather when it gets cold during the winter months in Sebastian, Florida.

Although it never entirely freezes or stays cold for long in Sebastian, people are curious about their pelican friends. If it gets below 32 degrees, their toes and their pouches under their beaks — the membrane — can freeze. These temperatures can cause frostbite very quickly.

However, the water is usually warmer than the air temperature, so they stay in sheltered waters, like mangroves. Some even hunker down inside the large roots of mangroves.

The coldest temperature we’ve seen this year in our city has been about 35 degrees. The temperatures near the water can be cooler than inland, so there may be some areas along the river and lagoon where it got down to 32. That doesn’t happen often, and the pelicans have learned how to adapt to these non-freezing temperatures.

Usually, when it’s a cold night, the temperature usually rises thirty to forty degrees by midday. Since all we get are cold fronts, we’ve seen temperatures rise to 75 degrees the same day following an overnight cold spell.

Pelicans can have a long life span and can live to be in their forties. The earliest pelican fossil on record is a 30-million-year-old skull found in France.

The pelicans also have numerous adaptations to endure the cooler temperatures and to keep them from other injuries. You’ll often see them in groups when they’re on or near the docks in the Indian River Lagoon.

In Sebastian, we love our native pelicans and our American white pelican visitors from the north. It’s not uncommon that we care about their safety in the wild.

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About Andy Hodges
Andy Hodges was born in Annapolis, Maryland and raised in Jupiter, Florida. Andy has been a radio & TV personality since the 1980s. He has worked for WLIZ, WFLX-FOX 29, WIRK, WIXI, WKSY, WRMF, and WJNO to name a few. After spending 7 years in Atlanta, Georgia during the 1990s, Andy returned to Florida and settled in the small town of Sebastian in 2000. In 2005, he returned to the broadcasting news sector and eventually joined our news team in 2016 as editor in chief. Andy's family has lived in Sebastian for more than 45 years.