Family Pelicans (Pelecanidae)

Least Concern

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)


French: Pélican brun German: Braunpelikan Spanish: Pelícano pardo

Pelecanus occidentalis


, 1766,



Part of a clade that includes also P. thagus and P. erythrorhynchos#R. Until recently, often considered conspecific with P. thagus but differs in its smaller size (data weak but probably at least 2); proportionately shorter crest (at least 1); olivaceous gular pouch (3); red on lower mandible extending<50% vs >50%  length of bill from tip, with basal section of upper mandible more horn-coloured vs yellower (2); grey vs whitish scapulars (2);  grey vs whitish greater coverts on all secondaries  (ns[2]); absence of black papillae in loral area  (ns[2])#R#R. Subspecific status of birds on W coast of Central America unclear. Race urinator sometimes treated as synonymous with californicus, and both of these have been considered barely distinguishable from nominate. Five subspecies tentatively recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. o. californicus Ridgway, 1884 – breeds on Pacific coast in SW USA (California) and NW Mexico (Baja California, and S to Jalisco); non-breeders disperse along Pacific coast N to Canada (British Columbia) and S to Guatemala, rarely to El Salvador.
  • P. o. carolinensis J. F. Gmelin, 1789 – breeds E USA from Maryland along Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean coasts S, very locally, to Honduras, also on Pacific coast of Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama; non-breeders from S New York to Venezuela.
  • P. o. occidentalis Linnaeus, 1766 – breeds in Bahamas, Greater and Lesser Antilles, and along Caribbean coast of W Indies, Colombia and Venezuela to Trinidad and Tobago.
  • P. o. murphyi Wetmore, 1945 – W Colombia to Ecuador; non-breeding visitor to N Peru.
  • P. o. urinator Wetmore, 1945 – Galapagos Is.
  • Descriptive notes

    105–152 cm; 3·5+ kg; wingspan 203–228 cm; bill 280–348 mm. Breeding adult of nominate race has golden to cream-yellow head soon turning white,... read more


    Various harsh grunting sounds, e.g. during display a low-pitched “hrrraa-hrra”. Bill-clappering... read more


    Strictly marine, very rarely inland. Prefers shallow inshore waters along coast, including... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mostly fish, with greatest congregations in areas with abundant anchovies (Engraulis mordax) and also sardines (... read more


    Breeds in spring in extreme N of range, throughout year in tropics, peaking variably at different sites. Colonial, with some colonies... read more


    Most populations resident and dispersive; some migration, especially in N populations, but... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Probably most abundant of all pelicans. Population has increased greatly since 1960s. Nominate race believed to number at least... read more

    Recommended citation

    Elliott, A., Christie, D.A., Jutglar, F., de Juana, E. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 9 April 2020).