(Pelecanus occidentalis)

FUN FACT

The Brown Pelican is one of only three pelican species found in the Western Hemisphere, and one of only two pelican species which feed by diving directly down into the water.

Pelicans are large, bulky waterbirds with webbed feet, short legs, and a remarkably long bill.   The underside of their bills extends into a pouch that can hold 2-3 gallons of water at a time, used to trap fish.  When hunting, they spot their prey from the air and plunge into the water head-first.  After trapping the fish, they drain the water out the sides of the bill, and then swallow the fish whole.  Brown pelicans incubate their eggs with their feet, essentially standing on them to keep them warm. 

Unfortunately, the use of the pesticide DDT caused brown pelican numbers to plummet during the 20th century.  Much like the decline of the bald eagle, DDT thinned the pelicans’ egg shells, causing them to break during incubation.  After DDT use was banned, brown pelican numbers slowly recovered and they were officially removed from the federal endangered species list in 1985.  The National Aviary is home to two brown pelicans, Ralph and Dexter.  They were both injured in the wild and are unable to be released.

Distribution

Coastal regions all through North and South America.

Habitat

Brown Pelicans can be found from Nova Scotia to Venezuela on the Atlantic Coast, and from British Columbia to Chile on the Pacific Coast.

Diet

Fish, fish, and more fish!

Breeding

Brown pelicans nest in colonies during the breeding season. They build their nests in trees, bushes, or on the ground. Both parents care for the chicks.

Status

Not Under Threat (Least Concern)

At the Aviary

See "Dexter" and "Ralph" in our Wetlands of the Americas exhibit.