Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)


Family:                Pelecanidae.

Status:                 Endangered.

Size:                    3 feet in length, weight 5 to 8 lbs., wingspan 6 to 7 ft.

Diet:                    Carnivore.

Characteristics:    Sociable, outgoing.

Area:                   Coasts of Mexico, Southern USA and northern South America.

Offspring:            2 to 3 eggs.



·      Brown pelicans are the smallest members of the pelican family (there are 7 species).

·      The brown pelican is also called American brown pelican or common pelican.

·      In the late 19th century, pelicans were hunted for their feathers, to use on women’s hats.

·      President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida's Pelican Island in 1903 as a national wildlife refuge.

·      Sea gulls sometimes sit right on the fish-filled bill of a pelican, hoping to steal a fish when the pelican opens its mouth to eat.



Adult pelicans eat 3 to 4 pounds of fish per day, but not commercial types typically eaten by people. Pelicans eat mostly menhaden, but also herring, pigfish, minnows, smelt, silversides and mullet, as well as crustaceans such as prawns. Brown pelicans are graceful flyers, and they soar over the water, searching for prey. When the pelican spots something, he makes a dive straight down into the water, capturing the food in his large bill. Another way that pelicans catch fish is by flying low along the water in groups, flapping their wings, which forces fish to gather in groups under the water. The pelicans then open their mouths and scoop up several of the fish. Pelicans have extremely long bills with an expandable pouch in which they can hold food until they drain away the water that has gotten into the bill, before they eat their catch. The pouch expands enough to be able to hold three gallons, which is up to three times more than the bird can fit into its stomach. Pelicans are social birds that live in large flocks made up of both males and females. Although they move awkwardly on land, they’re strong swimmers, even when young.



Brown pelicans live along U.S.A.’s Gulf Coast, as well as along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, from the southern United States along Mexico to the northwest tip of South America and the Galapagos Islands. Their population decreased drastically from 1940 to 1972, when the pesticide DDT use was widespread throughout the U.S., as it caused the pelicans’ eggshells to become so thin that the young couldn’t survive. Since DDT has been banned, brown pelican populations have increased, but they remain on the endangered list.



A male picks out a nest site in early spring and then sets out to attract a female. Once a pair is formed, the male brings sticks and grass to the female, who builds the nest on the ground on in a tree, within a large pelican colony. The parents take turns incubating the eggs for approximately one month, until the eggs hatch. The chicks are born without feathers, and their eyes are closed. Both parents bring food to them—the chicks put their beaks inside their parents’ throats, who then regurgitate the food into the youngsters’ mouths. The chicks soon grow a soft downy coat, and those in ground nests may begin exploring outside of the nest approximately one month after hatching. Tree nest pelican chicks don’t leave the nest for more than two months, until they’re ready to fly. Brown pelicans mature between three and four years of age. They can live up to and beyond 30 years.