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With 51 tags now deployed, we're nearing the end of our pelican-trapping season. Our last batch arrives later this week, and in mid-July we'll wrap up for the summer and start to take a look at some of the data we've collected.
Pouch color is also variable: younger birds seem to have mostly dark, grey-black pouches, while older birds have some yellow mixed in. We've also seen some adults, particularly early in the breeding season, with red pouches. These colors may indicate age or reproductive status, but so far we don't really know what they mean.
For each pelican we capture, we take a photo of the entire bill and a close-up of the bill tip. Bill color is another plumage characteristic that varies widely and may or may not be able to give us information about individual birds. While some pelican bills are dark and unmarked, others show vivid patches of orange and yellow around the bill tip or close to the face. The amount of color seems to be higher in older birds, and possibly also in larger individuals.
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Once we're out of the field, we will be able to compare some of these photos to measurement data, diet, and blood samples to see whether these variations in color can tell us anything about the physical condition or history of individual pelicans. Meanwhile, we can enjoy our unique perspective on the parts of pelicans most people don't get to see.