Duck-like Birds

Brown Pelican Brown Pelican
Pelecanus occidentalis


45-54" (1.1-1.4 m). W. 7'6" (2.3 m). A very large, stocky bird with a dark brown body and a long flat bill. The only non-white pelican in the world. Head whitish in adults, with dark brown on hindneck during breeding season. Young birds have dark brown head and whitish bellies.


Usually silent, but utters low grunts on nesting grounds.

Endangered Status

Brown pelicans were removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2009, in what was considered a major conservation success story. But a recent crash in Pacific Coast populations of sardines, the pelican's prime food, is posing new threats to these oddly elegant birds.


Sandy coastal beaches and lagoons, waterfronts and pilings, and rocky cliffs.

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican


2 or 3 chalky white eggs in a nest of sticks, straw, or other debris, usually on a rocky island near the coast. Nests in colonies.


Resident of Pacific Coast from southern California south to Chile, dispersing northward as far as southern British Columbia after nesting season. Also on Atlantic Coast from North Carolina south to Venezuela.


These social colonial birds fly in single file low over the water; on sighting prey they plunge with wings half-folded, from heights of up to 50 feet (15 meters), surfacing to drain water from their bills before swallowing the fish. Unlike its larger white relative, the Brown Pelican seldom soars. Around waterfronts and marinas individual birds become quite tame, taking fish offered them by humans.