Brown Pelican
Pelecanus occidentalis

Physical Description 

    • Adults: Large brown body, light yellow head. Long beak that has expandable pouch that can fill with water and fish. Beak pouch can be bright red by their throat
    • Juveniles: Brown body and beak, with white stomach
    • Can be 50 inches long


    • Found along all coasts of Mexico and the United States, as well as down south into Northern Peru and the mouth of the Amazon River, Tobago, and the island of Saut d’Eau in Trinidad


    • Nest in colonies usually on islands, coastal areas with sandy beaches, lagoons, etc.


    • Schooling fish close to the water’s edge, including herring, mullet, anchovies, sardines, Pacific mackerel, and minnows


    • Brown pelican chicks can be eaten by gulls, skunks, and feral cats
    • Adult brown pelicans have few natural predators

Interesting Facts 

    • Their bill can hold up to three gallons of water and fish at a time, which is about two to three times what their stomach can hold!
    • With their great eyesight, they can spot a fish from 20-60 feet up. With their heads pointed straight down and their wings pointed straight back, they dive straight downward. They fill air sacs under their skin to act as last-minute airbags and keep them from breaking any bones!
    • As recently as the 1970s, the brown pelican was seriously endangered from pesticides, especially DDT, hurting their eggs. But conservationists saved them by banning those pesticides and now they are healthy and their population numbers have recovered.

Sources: Tammy Russell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Audobon Society;; Monterey Bay Aquarium; MentalFloss;

Photo: Scott F. McGee

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