Brown Pelicans

The Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is a small pelican. Its maximum lifespan is about 30 years; however ocean pollution is considered the biggest threat do its existence.

The Eastern Brown Pelican is the State Bird of Louisiana.


  • Caribbean Brown Pelican – Nominate Race (Pelecanus occidentalis occidentalis – Linnaeus, 1766)
  • California Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus)
  • Eastern Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis carolinensis – Gmelin, 1789)
  • Pacific Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis murphy – Wetmore, 1945)
  • Galapagos Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis urinator – Wetmore, 1945)

The Peruvian Pelican (Pelecanus thagus) was once considered a subspecies of the Pacific Brown Pelican. However, taking into consideration their separate ranges and considerable size differences, it has been reclassified as a separate species.

Distribution / Habitat:

They are found on coast lines in the Americas from Washington and Virginia south to northern Chile. They also inhabit the mouth of the Amazon River, and the island of Saut d’Eau in Trinidad and Tobago. Young birds may stray to inland freshwater lakes.

After the breeding season, the North American Brown Pelicans migrate in flocks further north along the coasts.

Flocks of Brown Pelicans often travel in single file, flying low over the water’s surface.

The Brown Pelican is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)


Even though the Brown Pelican is the smallest of the eight species of pelican – it is still very large, averaging 106–137 cm (42–54 in) in length and weighing from 2.75 to 5.5 kg (6-12 lb). It has a wingspan of 1.83 to 2.5 m (6 to 8.2 ft).

The plumage is predominantly brown with some whitish / black markings. The head and neck of the adult (male or female) is yellowish white.

Juveniles are mostly brown (including head and neck).

Similar Species: This bird is distinguished from the American White Pelican by its brown body and its habit of diving for fish from the air, as opposed to co-operative fishing from the surface.

Diet / Feeding:

Its main diet consists of herring-like fish, amphibians as well as crustaceans.

Nesting / Breeding:

Brown Pelicans nest in colonies, generally on islands. The bulky stick nest is typically located on the ground on an island or in a low tree.

The average clutch consists of 3 eggs. The chicks eat around 150 lbs. of fish in the 8-10 month period they are cared for by their parents.

Brown Pelicans perform exercises, such as stretching and turning the pouch inside out, to keep it flexible
Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelican Diving for Fish
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Brown Pelicans by Ingrid Martel
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Diving Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) - face detail
Brown Pelican Preening (Pelecanus occidentalis) - preening
Brown Pelican in flight
Photo of author

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