Overall, we estimated a total metapopulation within the geographical range of the California brown pelican subspecies (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) as about 70,680 ? 2,640 breeding pairs (mean ? SD). Little change in at least three decades is indicated in the total metapopulation south of the Southern California Bight (SCB) subpopulation, but significant improvements in the breeding subpopulation size in the SCB reported elsewhere, support the present high numbers observed in this northernmost subpopulation. The largest breeding aggregation within the entire range (consisting of three immediately adjacent sub-colonies), at the San Lorenzo Archipelago, consisted of about 17,225 breeding pairs, or about 24.4% of the metapopulation in 2006. Other, smaller colonies are no less important, however, although each subpopulation defined by us seemed to have a single or small number of large 'core' breeding colonies, plus many smaller colonies (for example, in 2006, one colony consisted of only 2 breeding pairs). Small colonies (< about 70 nests) comprised about 35.6% of the total occupied colonies, but only about 0.87% of the total estimated numbers (values corrected for detectability). The modal colony-size throughout the range was much smaller (about 230 to 1,300 breeding pairs, depending on subpopulation), indicating that small, scattered colonies and sub-colonies, especially on the range peripheries, function in brown pelican population dynamics and are no less important from a conservation viewpoint. These smaller breeding colonies probably represent some colonies of antiquity, but also range expansions and contractions that occur within the typically-defined metapopulation, and local manifestations of source-sink phenomena. Given such dynamics, even unoccupied islands within the range in 2006 have conservation importance from the viewpoint of such dynamics as potential alternate nesting sites. Natural variations in the estimated population levels seem to be related to the natural cycles of El Ni?o/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomena where very low breeding populations (as low as no nesting in many areas) might be expected to occur in these same areas censused in 2006 at least 40% of the time. From the 2006 aerial survey, extensive commercial and sport-fishing activity, resort/tourist developments and associated human activities along the coastal areas and at offshore islands, and extensive aquacultural (and to a lesser degree, agricultural) developments seen from the Rio Colorado Delta region, Sonora, south at least through San Blas, Nayarit (the southern terminus of our 2006 aerial survey) may result in substantial loss of breeding habitat. Juvenile (young of the 2005 breeding season) plus subadult brown pelicans comprised 28.1% ? 0.33% (mean ? 95% CI) of the total numbers in age-ratio samples. Thus, our overall metapopulation estimate for P. o. californicus in 2006 was 195,900 ? 7,225 individuals.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Size of the California Brown Pelican Metapopulation During a Non-El Nino Year