Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Pelecanidae
  • Polytypic: 5 subspecies
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Photos from this Account

Breeding adult (Atlantic)

Large and stocky seabird with a long neck and giant bill. Breeding adults have a dark neck and a pale yellow head. Birds from the Atlantic Coast have brown skin on their throat pouch.

Breeding adult (California)

Heavy bodied seabird with a giant bill. During the breeding season their heads have a light golden wash. Breeding adults along the Pacific Coast have red skin on their throat pouch.


Juveniles look similar to adults, but are brown above with a brown neck and grayish bill.


Does not carry food in its pouch; instead it scoops up fish and releases the water before swallowing them whole.

Breeding adult (California)

Graceful flier often seen flying low over the waves, gathering lift as the waves break.


Scoops fish out of the water using expandable throat pouch. Before swallowing the fish, they drain the water out of the pouch.

Nonbreeding adult

Often rests with its head on its shoulder. Nonbreeding birds have a slight yellow wash on their head and a white neck.


Plunges head first into water, scooping up fish with its expandable throat pouch.


Found year-round in estuaries and coastal marine habitats, often in flocks.


Common coastal bird often seen standing on rocks or pilings near shore.

Recommended Citation

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: