07 Brown Pelican
1Identifcation number on The Map®

Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis

Brown PelicanScott McGee ~ underpressurephoto.com


  • Young pelicans – all brown
  • Adults – brown and gray body, white head with a light brown crown, and  a dark brown neck during breeding season, a very long gray bill with a large pouch of skin that holds two or three times more than its stomach can hold – close to three gallons of fish and water
  • Length 50 inches


  • Coasts in the Americas from Washington and Virginia south to northern Peru and the mouth of the Amazon River, Tobago, and the island of Saut d’Eau in Trinidad


  • Nest in colonies of males and females, usually on islands, coastal areas with sandy beaches and lagoons
  • Nest – site selected by male, varies from a simple scrape on the ground to a bulky stick nest in a bush or low tree with materials brought by male to female who accepts them with a sway of her head and weaves them into the nest taking over a week


  • Menhaden. herring, mullet, sheepshead, silversides and other fish and crustaceans

Interesting Facts

  • Plunge divers – drop from the air with wings partly folded and dives into the water to catch its prey - the only species of pelican that does this
  • Uses bill and pouch like a net scooping up fish and water, strains out the water from the sides of its bill, tips back its head and swallows the fish it caught, but doesn’t carry fish in its pouch
  • Glide in a V or straight line formation with necks folded against their shoulders
  • Breeding – nesting site selected by male who tries to attract a female with a display behavior of head movements. Once a female selects a male, theBrown Pelican ChickThe female lays two to three eggs a few days after the nest is completed. Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the young. The eggs are incubated in an unusual way. The pelican will put its webbed feet over the eggs to keep them warm. The chicks hatch after about a month. For the first 10 days after hatching, the parents will leave regurgitated food on the bottom of the nest for the chicks to eat. After that, the chicks eat regurgitated food directly from their parents’ bills. If the nest is on the ground, it may be a simple scrape in the ground or it may be made of sticks, reeds and grass like a tree nest. the chicks will walk around outside the nest when they are about a month old. If the nest is in a tree, the chicks will leave the nest when they are between two and three months old.