Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Brown Pelican

a.k.a. Pelecanus occidentalis

The Brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis (Linnaeus, 1766), is set apart from its brethren by its dark, bulky body, about 1.2m long. The head is downy and white with a pale yellow wash on the crown; the long bill is grayish; and the back, rump, and tail are streaked with gray and dark brown. During mating season, the neck turns dark brown. The eyes are pale yellow and the legs and feet are black.

Although Brown pelicans do form pair bonds, they do not seem to communicate with each other very much after mating. Nesting peaks during March and April, when male pelicans pick nesting sites, perform an "advertising" display to attract females, and then build their nests. If the nests are built in trees or bushes, they will be made of reeds, grasses, straw, and sticks. Nests built on the ground consist of a shallow scrape lined with feathers and a rim of soil built a few inches above the ground. Brown pelicans lay 2 or 3 chalky-white eggs each breeding season. The eggs are incubated for about a month under the parents' feet. After hatching, the progress of the young depends on the location of the nest. Birds born in ground nests will leave after about a month; those in the treetops generally don't venture out until two or even three months after hatching.

Brown pelicans were victims of DDT and other hard pesticides during the 1960s and 70s; their number declined markedly during that time, probably because the birds were eating contaminated fish. As with other birds, DDT thinned out the shells of Brown pelican eggs, killing the young.


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Ciconiiformes
  • Family: Pelecanidae
  • Genus: Pelecanus
  • Species: Pelecanus occidentalis

Where to See:

Brown pelicans are strictly coastal and very rarely seen inland, but they do seem to be flexible in terms of latitude; they are widely distributed along the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico coasts as far north as Nova Scotia, spanning both temperate and tropical waters. Pelicans are gregarious and live in large flocks throughout the year.

1 comment:

Happy Heart Princess said...

When I am at my condo in St Simons Island, Georgia I am privileged to see these magnificent birds. Very nice blog you have!
(no dot after the w's)