Brown Pelican

Male Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Brown Pelican – non-breeding adult
female brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Brown Pelican – Juvenile

Non-breeding adult Brown Pelicans normally have white heads and necks with pale yellow foreheads. Their pale, long bills are part yellow, part orange. Their bodies are grayish-brown with short, black legs and webbed feet. Juveniles have brown heads, necks, backs, and wings. Their long bills are bluish-gray. They are light brown underneath.

The Brown Pelican has five subspecies, and two of these breed in the United States. P.o.californicus is the Pacific Coast variant, and P.o.carolinensis is the Atlantic Coast variant. 

The differences between the Pacific and Atlantic Brown Pelicans are more obvious during the Breeding Season. Both species have white heads with brighter yellow foreheads. Their napes’ color turns from white to dark brown. Atlantic Brown Pelicans have olive-brown throat pouches, while Pacific Brown Pelicans have red skin on their throat pouches. 

Brown Pelican – Pacific
Brown Pelican Bird Atlantic
Brown Pelican – Atlantic
  • Pelecanus occidentalis
  • Length: 48 – 50 in (122 – 127 cm)
  • Weight: 131.2 oz (3718 g)
  • Wingspan: 78 – 84 in (198 – 213 cm)


Brown Pelicans either breed and migrate or are resident all year along the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coasts of North America and down to northern South America.

Habitat And Diet

You can find Brown Pelicans around shallow water environments. They live year-round in estuaries and coastal marine habitats. You can also see them in mangrove islets and on sandbars, breakwaters, and offshore rocks when they’re resting. 

Brown Pelicans have a unique foraging ability that makes them stand out. They can dive into deep ocean waters to capture their prey in their throat pouches. When they surface, water drains from their pouches, allowing them to swallow their catch immediately. 

They primarily eat fish like sardines and herring. When they’re not diving, they casually swim and simply seize prey with their bills. They may eat crustaceans like prawns, amphibians, eggs, and other young birds.

Brown Pelican Calls:

Adults are usually silent, except for the occasional grunt, but juveniles will squark to beg for food.


Nests of Brown Pelicans are more often built on the ground rather than on trees. They are usually concealed and protected on islands, mangroves, and cliffs. The female builds the nest out of reeds, leaves, pebbles, and sticks, packed with soil. The female lays two to four eggs that they both incubate for about a month. 

Fun Fact:

Brown Pelicans incubate their eggs by covering them using their webbed feet. This practice became detrimental to the species because there was a time when the pesticide DDT caused the thinning of the eggshells and led them to break from the weight of their parent’s feet. It took many conservation efforts to re-establish the number of Brown Pelicans.