• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Brown Pelican - BirdForum Opus

Subspecies californicus
Photo © by Leslie
Malibu Beach, California, May 2004

Includes Galapagos Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis


Photo © by Danielbirdwatcher
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, USA, 15 February 2021

Smallest of the pelicans.
L. 105–152 cm (41¼-59¾ in)
W. 1.83-2.5 m (6 to 8.2 ft)
Weight 2.75-5.5 kg (6-12 lbs)
Breeding plumage, nominate race

  • Golden to creamy-yellow head, which then turns white

Younger birds are less strongly colored with pale belly

Similar Species

Can be told from the American White Pelican by its brown body and their different feeding habits Brown Pelican never show the contrast of black flight feathers to white wing linings seen from a flying American White Pelican.
Peruvian Pelican is a much larger species where the silvery patch on the upper-wing coverts is separated from the body by a dark area on the inner wing; Peruvian Pelican also has a paler body.


Washington and Virginia south to Peru (and probably northern Chile) and the mouth of the Amazon River. Post-breeding, North American birds move northwards in flocks along the coasts, returning south for the winter.

One of the subspecies is limited to Galapagos and has sometimes been called Galapagos Brown Pelican.



There are 5 subspecies[1]:

  • P. o. occidentalis (Caribbean)
  • P. o. carolinensis (Atlantic);
  • P. o. californicus (California):
  • P. o. murphyi:
  • P. o. urinator:

Peruvian Pelican has been split from Brown Pelican.


Breeding plumage
Photo © by jonsund
Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area, Flagler Beach, Florida, USA, May 2009

At sea close to coasts, coastal lagoons, and saltmarshes. Immature birds occasionally seen at inland lakes.


Groups of Brown Pelicans often travel in single file, flying low over the water's surface.


Mainly herring-like fish.

They feed individually, diving for fish.


Click on photo for larger image


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. BirdForum Member observations
  3. Shields, M. (2020). Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.brnpel.01

Recommended Citation

External Links