Same-Sex Pelican Couple Marks 18 Years Together

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday June 24, 2021

This stock image shows a pair of brown pelicans.
This stock image shows a pair of brown pelicans.  (Source:Getty Images)

Committed gay penguins aren't the only game in town. A same-sex brown pelican couple named Pepe and Enrique have renewed their monogamous relationship for an 18th consecutive year, LGBTQ Nation reports.

Like Emperor penguins, pelicans practice "seasonal monogamy," choosing one mate each mating season. But like Gentoo and other penguin species, including certain famed same-sex penguin couples, Pepe and Enrique have chosen each other year after year. And, like penguin same-sex couples in aquariums and zoos, the pelican couple meet their parenting instinct by tending to a stand-in egg provided by their human caretakers (though in some cases, same-sex penguin couples have also been given actual eggs, and have proven to be exceptional parents).

Pepe and Enrique live at Pelican Harbor Seabird Station in Miami, which LGTBQ Nation describes as "a wildlife conservatory and rehab facility" where injured birds and other wildlife receive care until they can live in the wild again. The facility cares for thousands of animals each year.

Pepe and Enrique, however, have both suffered debilitating wing injuries and are permanent residents.

"They found each other there, and have chosen to spend most of their life with one another," the article related. Brown pelicans live about 30 years.

"Every year, one of the two presents a stick to the other as a sign of affection," the article explained, adding that the couple then "build a nest together" as part of their mating ritual.

Humans can't tell the difference between male and female pelicans simply by observing, the article mentions, explaining that "staff actually had to have the pair's blood drawn" to determine that they are both males.

"They're the only in-resident, same-sex couple, and only their second same-sex couple to ever reside there," the article added, recalling how "a pair of female brown pelicans" once lived at Seabird Station but later "went to the San Antonio Zoo in 2015."

But Pepe and Enrique don't need to look for any other accommodations. They are "special ambassador residents," the article notes, and "have provided educational value to Pelican Harbor."

The facility's Director of Communications, Hannah McDougall, described the pair to LGBTQ Nation as "our beautiful special boys."

"They're in love," McDougall added, "they're inseparable and always by each other's side."

Though the pair nurture a placebo egg, they have also had the "opportunity to take care of actual babies," LGTBQ Nation noted, explaining that: "After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, a dozen baby pelicans came into the care of Pelican Harbor. Pepe and Enrique helped to foster them."

"Like the other ambassadors, Pepe and Enrique are available for ceremonious adoption," the article points out. "For $300, you can help cover the food and care for the lovely couple for about a year. The funding also allows their caretakers to learn more about their species."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.