About 50 inches (125 cm) long with a wingspan of 6.5 feet (2 m).
The bill is long and flat, the neck long, and the huge throat
pouch is flat when deflated. It is a dark water bird, with the
adult having a great deal of white about the head and neck. The
immature bird has a dark head and white underparts (Peterson,
1990). The bill is hooked at the tip and there are no external
nostril openings (Leahy, 1982).
Pelecanus occidentalis is found near coasts and inland
waters (Perrins and Middleton, 1985). It is often seen perched on
posts and buoys (Peterson, 1990).
This species is found primarily in North America on islands along
the Pacific coast from central California through Honduras, Costa
Rica, Panama, Galapagos Islands, and along the South American
coast from Ecuador to Chile, and along the Atlantic, Gulf, and
Caribbean coasts from North Carolina south to Florida and west to
southern Texas, in the West Indies and the Greater Antilles east
to the Virgin Islands and St. Martin, off the Yucatan Peninsula
and Belize, and off the north coast of Venezuela (American
Ornithologists' Union, 1983).
The Brown Pelican eats fish. As the bird begins its downward
plunge into the water, after sighting its prey, it falls into the
water with a splash. The bird strikes the water upside-down at an
angle of 70-80 degrees. At this time the neck is straightened and
the bill enters the water with the pouch upside-down so that the
force of the dive opens the pouch to its fullest. As the Pelican
assumes a sitting position on the water the bill is closed,
pointed downwards allowing the water to drain from the pouch, the
bill is then raised and the bird swallows (Forbush and May,
1955). The pouch is capable of holding over 3 gallons of water
The nest is usually constructed of sticks and grasses, built in
either the bushes or on the ground. Generally an island is
chosen by this communal nester, often in a mangrove growth
(Forbush and May, 1955). There are one to four chalky-white eggs.
The incubation period is 1 month (Perrins and Middleton, 1985).
Both parents feed the young, increasing the chances of two to
three young surviving (Perrins and Middleton, 1985). Nestlings
are very noisy (Leahy, 1982).
The Brown Pelican is also known as the Common Pelican, American
Brown Pelican, and Blue Pelican (Forbush and May, 1955).
Nestlings squeal, while adults are silent with a rare low croak
American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Check-list of North
American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.
Forbush, E. H., and J. B. May. 1955. A natural history of
American birds of eastern and central North America. Bramhall
House, New York, 552 pp.
Leahy, C. 1982. The birdwatcher's companion: an encyclopedic
handbook of North American birdlife. Hill and Wang, New York, 917
Perrins, C. M., and A. L. A. Middleton, eds. 1985. The
encyclopedia of birds. Equinox, Ltd., Oxford, 447 pp.
Peterson, R. T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton
Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.
Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996.