The Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is the smallest member of the pelican family, Pelecanidae. It is one of three pelican species found in the Americas and one of only two that feeds by diving in the water. It is found on the Atlantic Coast from Nova Scotia to the mouth of the Amazon River, and along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to northern Chile, including the Galapagos Islands.
The Brown Pelican mainly feeds on fish, but occasionally forages on amphibians, crustaceans, and the eggs and nestlings of birds. It nests in colonies in secluded areas, often on islands, vegetated land among sand dunes, thickets of shrubs and trees, and mangroves. [Wikipedia]
The Brown Pelican is the smallest of the eight pelican species but is often one of the larger seabirds in their range nonetheless. It measures 1 to 1.52 m (3 ft 3 inches to 5 ft 0 in) in length and has a wingspan of 2.03 to 2.28 m (6 ft 8 inches to 7 ft 6 in). Like all pelicans, it has a very long bill, measuring 280 to 348 mm (11.0 to 13.7 in) in length. The nominate subspecies in its breeding plumage has a white head with a yellowish wash on the crown. The nape and neck are dark maroon–brown. The upper sides of the neck have white lines along the base of the gular pouch, and the lower foreneck has a pale yellowish patch.
The non-breeding adult has a white head and neck, and the pre-breeding adult has a creamy yellow head. The pink skin around the eyes becomes dull and gray in the non-breeding season.
The Brown Pelican is readily distinguished from the American White Pelican by its non-white plumage, smaller size, and habit of diving for fish from the air, as opposed to co-operative fishing from the surface. [Wikipedia]
The Brown Pelican is a comically elegant bird with an oversized bill, sinuous neck, and big, dark body. Squadrons glide above the surf along southern and western coasts, rising and falling in a graceful echo of the waves. They feed by plunge-diving from high up, using the force of impact to stun small fish before scooping them up. They are fairly common today—an excellent example of a species’ recovery from pesticide pollution that once placed them at the brink of extinction. [All About Birds]
Brown Pelican Facts [All About Birds]
- While the Brown Pelican is draining the water from its bill after a dive, gulls often try to steal the fish right out of its pouch—sometimes while perching on the pelican’s head. Pelicans themselves are not above stealing fish, as they follow fishing boats and hang around piers for handouts.
- The closely related Peruvian Pelican lives along the Pacific Coast of South America from southern Ecuador to Chile. It’s a little larger than a Brown Pelican, with fine white streaking on its underparts and a blue pouch in the breeding season. These two species are the only pelicans that plunge-dive for their food.
- During a dive, the Brown Pelican tucks its head and rotates its body to the left. This maneuver is probably to cushion the trachea and esophagus—which are found on the right side of the neck—from the impact.
- The oldest Brown Pelican on record was 43 years of age.