Brown Pelican

Brown pelican stretching his wings

Genus: Pelecanus
Species: occidentalis

Description:  Brown pelicans are large birds with long, thick bills. At the base of the gray bill is an expandable pouch that the pelican uses to hold food. 

Adult brown pelicans have brownish-gray bodies. The head is white and bright yellow. A brown pelican’s neck can change color from white to brown during the breeding season.

Brown pelicans search for fish by flying low over the water. When they spot potential food, they dive down and use the bill and expandable pouch as a giant scoop to pick up fish and water. The water will drain out the sides and the fish will be pushed to the back of the throat. Sometimes, smaller birds will try to steal fish right out of a pelican’s mouth! 

Immature brown pelicans are entirely brown until they reach maturity. Although their native range includes the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, they spend a lot of time on small islands away from populated areas.

Normally a silent bird, brown pelicans will emit a low grunt on their nesting grounds.

Habitat and Range:  Brown pelicans live year round in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Southeastern coast. They also migrate to spend winters in central California and summers on the Northwest and Mid-Atlantic coasts. Look for them on coastal beaches and lagoons.

  • Fun Fact
    While most birds incubate their eggs using the skin of their breast, pelicans use their feet to warm their eggs.


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