Species Identification - Birds

Brown Pelican - Pelicanus occidentalis

Family: Pelicans



Description: This large, gregarious bird can be seen skimming over the surface of the water or in formation (lines or Vs) soaring over trees along the beach. It is most identifiable by its very large bill and a gular pouch below the bill, through which it drains water after scooping up its prey. It is very buoyant because of internal air sacks under its skin, and can be seen floating far out at sea. It feeds by diving straight down into the water like a kingfisher. Its body is primarily brown, and its head is white. Although comparatively large, it is the smallest of the pelican family. The pelican was one of many birds threatened by DDT use, which weakens the shells, and it appeared on the US Endangered Species Act list from 1970-2009. Now it is common in our area.

Range: Common. The brown pelican lives on both coasts of North America, as far north as Nova Scotia. However, they are uncommon north of the Carolinas.

Photos by Carl Berube

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