Pelican sightings come with the territory in Pensacola. If you spend any time around local waters, you are bound to see the pouch-beaked birds flying high then swooping down to catch fish. (The seafood is not bad here. Can you blame them?)
Pelicans are so plentiful in Pensacola, you could easily argue that the pelican has become an unofficial mascot for the area. In Downtown Pensacola, revelers enjoy an annual New Year’s Eve Pelican Drop celebration that places a likeness of the beloved bird front and center of its countdown to the dawning of a new year. It also seems like there is a pelican on every corner in Downtown Pensacola.
About 15 years ago, as part of a fundraiser organized by the Pensacola News Journal to place newspapers in classrooms and improve early literacy, colorful pelican statues decorated by local artists began appearing in public spaces and in front of businesses across the Pensacola Bay Area. Dubbed Pelicans in Paradise, many of the original fiberglass pelicans – plus several that hatched in later years – remain perched around town today, and visitors frequently share their photos of the birds in social media.
If you’d like to join the flock of fans snapping selfies with a pelican statue, head to Downtown Pensacola, where (as of this writing) more than 10 pelicans are within walking distance of one another. Our family took a Sunday afternoon stroll to see many of them, and this is the path we followed:
1. Located on the Northeast corner at E. Government and S. Alcaniz Streets, the Tail of Two Cities Pelican features elements of the Spanish, French, English and American flags that have flown in Pensacola during its storied history. It stands across from Seville Square, where you can enjoy green space and swings for small children. The historic Old Christ Church, several restaurants, a brewery and ice cream shop also surround the square.
2. If you leave Seville Square walking west on Zarragosa Street, you will pass by Historic Pensacola’s Museum Plaza, where you can learn a little about local history at Colonial Archaeological Trail displays, view large public art exhibits or let kids play at Discovery Place, an early learning playground. When you reach S. Jefferson Street, you’ll find the Tribute to Our First Nations Pelican outside the Pensacola Museum of History. Reminiscent of Native American artwork, the pelican is the work of artist Dave Kessler and was installed in 2015.
3. Across Plaza Ferdinand is Palafox Street, which bisects the heart of Downtown Pensacola’s cultural and entertainment district. Just north of Government Street sits the Old Escambia County Courthouse Pelican. Previously decorated with various Florida license plate designs, the pelican now promotes organ donation. Painted blue and green, it features a red heart and the words, “Donate Life.” A box of organ donor registration forms is located near the base of the statue. A small plaque credits the Auto Collision program at George Stone Technical College for restoring this pelican in 2018.
4. Walk one block west to the Anchor Building at Government and S. Baylen Street to snap a photo with the most stylish pelican you are likely to encounter. Often called Dolly Pelican, this blue-eyed, blonde bird wears make-up, leopard print clothing, jewelry and high heels.
5. From here, you could go a few blocks south on Palafox Street toward the Palafox Pier. The Mermaid Pelican stands tall at the entrance to the pier. The enchanting design of this pelican features mermaids, fish, and purple and white striped legs. It is a quick stroll from this pelican to take a look at boats in the marina or ships in port, or the fountain and splash pad at the end of the pier.
The remaining pelicans on our walking tour are located north of Garden Street.
6. The Armed Forces Pelicans have become an iconic part of the landscape at the intersection of Palafox and Garden Streets. A bird representing each branch of the military has stood tall at this busy junction for years. During our visit, the Army pelican appeared to have been deployed elsewhere, with the Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy and Marines pelicans still in place.
7. The Pensacola News Journal headquarters is on the northeast corner of Palafox and Garden. Press(ton) Pelican stands just outside the entrance.
8. Style Downtown, a salon, is located a couple of blocks to the north on Palafox Street. Perched on the sidewalk outside the shop, the red and white striped Style Pelican completes her look with lipstick, no less.
9. Two blocks west at the northwest corner of Gregory and S. Spring Streets, Dewey D. Pelican is located outside the West Florida Public Library. Sure to be a book lover’s favorite, this pelican wears a pinstripe suit and tie and is accented with books on its neck, tail feathers and wings. Its legs are covered by a crossword puzzle design.
10. The Pelican Formerly Known As Pelvis now wears a bike helmet and bears the image of a biker. It stands next to a green bike rack in front of Regions Bank at the northeast corner of Garden and S. Baylen Streets. Before flying outside for some fresh air, this pelican previously resembled Elvis, with a white rhinestone suit and black wig, and lived inside the bank building’s lobby.
Other popular Pelicans you may spot around the Pensacola Bay Area are Pelikini, a bikini-clad pelican at the Visit Pensacola visitor information center at Wayside Park; Jeremiah Pelican at the Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum, onboard Pensacola Naval Air Station; and the sunglasses-sporting Paradise Pelican outside Santa Rosa Island Authority offices at Pensacola Beach.
As we observed during our walking tour, the pelican statues are subject to change and some may leave the nest without warning. At one time, there were reported to have been more than 70 pelican statues in the area.
What are your favorite pelicans?