I ran into a somewhat friendly group of white pelicans last weekend on Tomales bay. I see whites almost exclusively in flocks, only rarely singularly. Unlike browns, they usually keep their distance from humans. One thing I have learned about birds is generally the larger the flock the larger the distance you have to maintain to avoid spooking them. I believe this is because when one bolts the rest will follow, so they behave like their most nervous member. Often I find when encountering an individual bird they are much more tolerant. The smaller the group generally the less fearful they are. This was a tiny group so we got close without them taking flight. If you are careful you will notice the telltale behaviors that proceed flight, then back off without changing their behavior, or let them move to a point they are comfortable.
Each bird species also has it’s own comfort zone, I suspect developed by predation, the benefits of human association and the cost of behavioral disruption- feeding or resting being disturbed.
Brown pelicans are one of my favorite birds, they are very tolerant of humans. In Monterey they hang out on the wharf, in anticipation of the party fishing boats returning, waiting for scraps from fish cleaning. They also “steal” fish from fishermen on the piers, (it is not stealing to them) and this results in many injuries and deaths from line and hooks.
Seagulls are scavengers. This gets them a bad rap, but it’s an important niche. They also steal eggs from other birds and have learned that humans provide meals. The gulls at the downtown San Francisco stadium have figured out how to tell the game is in the 8th inning regardless of time of day or length of the game. When the game moves into the 8th they assault the stadium en masse. I find it humorous that people are indignant when they show up for free food, that’s a “Hello McFly” moment if I’ve ever seen one. There was a very funny plea to the gulls published in the SF Chron, you can read it here, I guess the issue is not the food going in, but the digested food coming out.
Gulls are not just approachable, but will approach people, as anyone who leaves food out at the beach quickly learns. This also hurts them; in the Bay Area last year there was rash of sightings of gulls with ring segments of beer cans jammed over their heads.
Cormorants are very tolerant birds, they ignore kayakers in Monterey, paddling a few feet from boats without worry. Pigeon Guillemots display similar behaviors. Black footed albatross, pelagic birds we see on whale watching trips, are pretty casual around boats too.
The wild parrots in San Francisco are a great example of learned tolerance, but since these pictures were taken you can no longer feed them, as people were abusing the privilege and grabbing then selling them.
I expect if we continue to show restraint towards birds they will become more and more friendly. We are starting to see crows and ravens move into cities on the peninsula. They are very smart birds, and will quickly learn to trust us. Here is a fascinating story illustrating just how smart they are.