Louisiana adopted the pelican as its official state bird in 1966, but it has been known as the "Pelican State" long before that due to the abundance of the animals along the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River shores. The brown pelican has symbolized the state of Louisiana since European colonists first noted the prevalence of the birds and their protective parental instincts. When the state was formed in 1812, the state's unofficial nickname was the "Pelican State."
The theme of the "Pelican State" has also crossed over into other Louisiana emblems. The brown pelican became the official state bird when a pelican mother nursing her young was made a part of the state's official seal. Louisiana's state seal, which was approved by the legislature in 1902, along with the state coin and flag, all feature pictures of the brown pelican, often along with a trumpet to signify New Orleans' status as the birthplace of jazz.
In 1966, due to the predominant use of pesticides by farmers in Louisiana and in all other states up and down the Mississippi River, brown pelicans became endangered along the Gulf Coast region, choosing other locations to build their nests. Conservation and habitat restoration efforts, however, led the U.S. government in 1995 to declare that the population had been restored. The brown pelican continues to go about its business of finding fish and staying clear of the alligators throughout the bayous and backwater towns of swampy Louisiana.
The brown pelican often can be seen flying in "V" formations that resemble the alignment of air show planes. The birds can be found all along coastlines throughout South, Central and North America, even making their way inland on occasion to fish in lakes and rivers. With a white head, brown body and yellowed beak and forehead, this pelican is the smallest of the world's pelican species, despite their ability to grow as long as 5 feet (or 1.5 m) with wingspans as wide as 8 feet (or 2.5 m). They dive-bomb for their food and can store several portions in a pouch that extends below their beaks — either for a later snack or to feed their young back at the nest.
The Pelican State is not the only nickname for Louisiana, though. It is also widely known as "The Birthplace of Jazz," "The Child of the Mississippi," "The Bayou State," "The Creole State," "The Sugar State" and the "Holland of America." Another widespread nickname for Louisiana is "The Sportsman's Paradise," which is featured on the state's license plate.