Brown Pelican (For Wild Bird Wednesday)


Pelecanus occidentalis

Brown Pelican

The Brown Pelican is a large water bird which primarily inhabits marine coastal areas and rarely occurs inland.  It eats mostly fish and other marine invertebrates.  It’s different than other pelicans as it spots its prey from above and dives into the water to scoop it up in its large pouch.  They will also sit on the surface and gather schooling fish.  The pelican doesn’t store any fish in the pouch but once the water has drained will swallow the meal immediately.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

The Brown Pelican has a wing span of up to 78 inches (200 cm) and will soar just above the water solo or in groups of more than 20 birds.  They seem almost tame and will hang around marinas and fishing piers looking for handouts or discarded fish.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

These large birds build loose nests of twigs in short trees or bushes and will sometimes nest right on the ground.  They lay 3-4 eggs at a time and are unusual in that they incubate the eggs by standing on them with their large webbed feet.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

As an avid fisherman, I always look for pelicans soaring and diving or sitting on the surface.  I know that if they have spotted a school of bait fish, larger fish will be a little deeper feeding on the same school.

Brown Pelican

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.

See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for


Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , | 34 Comments

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34 thoughts on “Brown Pelican (For Wild Bird Wednesday)

  1. Great series of shots. Some of the in flight shots are wonderful. I have been lucky enough to have seen this species recently in South America

  2. Fantastic pelican shots!

  3. Hi Wally, thanks so much for the wonderful Pelicans. They are up close and personal, a lot better than I got with my little lens. We have about 11 Pelicans that have wandered up here and are now standing on a buoy at the entrance to our inner harbour. It is very cold, wet and windy, so I want to send them back to you. Lovely shots Wally.

    • Thank you very much, Nora! Tell your pelicans to come on down. It was 78 (F) today and the water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico is 69.9 (F). More of the same with blue skies tomorrow. 🙂

  4. Great photos, Wally! I certainly never tire of watching Pelicans! Interesting that they stand on their eggs; I didn’t know that!

  5. Awesome shots of the Brown Pelican Wally, one of my faves! They are just amazing to watch as they dive after prey. They always seem to be crashing 😉

  6. They stand on their eggs? Wonder if baby pelicans have to see a therapist for that? 🙂 We see lots of brown pelicans when we go down to the docks in Pensacola. I never tire of watching them. Always think they look like they might be wearing Ben Franklin spectacles over that long wooden-looking beak. Great shots, Wally.

    • Thank you, Sister! Yep, stand on their eggs! That’s one of the reasons scientists believe the population went into decline in the 1960’s. The use of DDT based pesticides apparently resulted in weakened egg shells and cracked under the weight of the incubating birds. The American White Pelican wasn’t affected as much since they sat on the eggs but the weight was cushioned by the birds down feathers. Fun birds to watch!

  7. Great information and stunning photographs Wally. i was lucky enough to see a few of these in Mexico. By the way i posted a response to your question re Meadow Pipit on my blog but I’ll repeat it here – thanks for taking so much interest.
    “The CBC/BBS trend has been downward since the mid 1970s, accompanied by a range contraction from lowland England (Gibbons et al. 1993). Meadow Pipits are partial migrants and conditions on the Iberian wintering grounds have been linked to the decline, as have losses of marginal land from parts of the breeding range (Gibbons et al. 1993). Moorland, the key Meadow Pipit habitat, was not covered well by the CBC, leading to some doubt about the significance of the early results for this species, but BBS now provides more representative monitoring and has enabled the species to move from the green to the amber list. Nest failure rates during the 12-day nestling stage have declined markedly, which may reflect the loss of birds from suboptimal habitat, but no trend is evident in the number of fledglings per breeding attempt. A trend towards earlier laying is probably related to climate change (Crick & Sparks 1999). A widespread moderate decline is evident across Europe since 1980 (PECBMS 2011a).”

    • Phil, thank you for your very kind comments.

      As to the Meadow Pipit situation, one can only hope for success in international efforts to curb urbanization, better control of the use of pesticides and development coherent farming policies (e.g., allowing marginal fields to lay fallow) in order to stabilize the population. Many other species worldwide face similar threats. My hat is off to you and your dedicated ringing to further the research necessary to track the ups and downs of our feathered friends! –Cheers.

  8. You captured the beauty of pelicans in flight perfectly. These are awesome shots, Wally. Thanks for the info also.
    I too posted a Brown Pelicans on my main blog.. two great minds with one single thought :>)

    • I totally missed your other blog! Nice sequence with the fisherman. I left a comment for you there. Thank you again for the very nice comments. I could watch these guys float above the water all day.

  9. WAU – where a beautiful photo series showing.
    Thanks for the comment on my blog 🙂
    Hanne Bente

  10. What great shots of your Brown Pelican. Your images are so crisp & clear. Great flight shots too. They are very similar to our Australian Pelican (which is white & black). A very informative post, Wally.
    I have posted a few times about our Pelicans. Their antics while sunning themselves are quite interesting. I assume your Brown Pelicans would do similar things. I’ve added a link below:

    I plan on doing another Australian Pelican post soon as I have even better shots of this strange but well documented behaviour, which I did some research on.

    Thanks again for sharing this post and for your visits to my blog for Wild Bird Wednesday.

    • Liz, thank you for your really nice comments! Your images of the the Australian Pelicans was great! Yep, our Brown Pelicans engage in similar “clownish” behavior. A lot of fun to watch. I look forward to your post.

  11. I was thinking similar thoughts to Mike in the first comment – maybe we should declare next week “Pelican Week” – well, maybe!

    Great pictures.

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW. Stewart M – Melbourne

  12. Like Mike, it’s weird to see a pelican that’s so different and yet similar to the Aussie Pelican! Sadly, like Mike, I’ve never got shots in flight like your magnificent photos. But who am I kidding? I don’t have ANY good shots of birds in flight …

  13. Great photos of the Brown Pelican and very interesting to see the similarities and differences to the Australian White Pelican (Pelicanus conspicillatus). Maybe I should do a post on them soon – but I have never managed to get great in-flight photos like yours. They are great.

  14. Oh, what beautiful captures these are! He’s a marvelous bird!

  15. Awesome serie of photos!
    I have never seen this kind of pelicans!

    • Thank you very much, Hans. They are common here and are very interesting to watch as they attack a school of fish or steal bait from a fisherman’s bucket!

  16. Hi Wally! I have never seen a pelican in real life and I think your photos are so beautiful of this big bird! What a fantastic beak they have! Yes, they are indeed interesting!
    Thanks for your nice comment about my birds! 🙂
    Greetings Pia in Sweden

    • Pia, thank you for your kind words! They are fun to watch as they scoop up hundreds of small fish into their large pouch. Like a fisherman with a net!

  17. TexWisGirl

    beautiful shots. love all the feather detail you show.

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