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, and the head is bright yellow and white. A brown pelican’s neck can change color from white to brown during the breeding season. But before they reach maturity, brown pelicans are entirely brown.
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. They find habitats around coastal beaches and lagoons. Although their native range includes the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts, brown pelicans spend a lot of time on small islands away from populated areas.
Brown pelicans search for fish by flying low over the water. When they spot potential food, they dive down and use their bill as a giant scoop to pick up fish and water. The water will drain out the sides of the bill's pouch 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.
These birds usually nest in colonies. While most birds incubate their eggs using the skin of their breast, pelicans use their feet to warm their eggs.
Brown pelicans were federally listed as endangered in the 1970s and '80s because of pesticides that entered their food chain, but their populations have recovered.
Normally a silent bird, brown pelicans will emit a low grunt on their nesting grounds.
Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
As many Americans gather this week with family and friends to mark Thanksgiving, we want to take the time to recognize the different meanings this day holds for Indigenous Peoples.Read More
Promoting more-inclusive outdoor experiences for allRead the Story
A groundbreaking bipartisan bill aims to address the looming wildlife crisis before it's too late, while creating sorely needed jobs.Read More
A Year of Staying Close: Winners of Our 2021 Photo ContestSee the Winners
More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 52 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.