Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Brown Pelican


The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is a bird of the pelican family, Pelecanidae, one of three species found in the Americas and one of two that feed by diving into water. It is found on the Atlantic Coast from New Jersey to the mouth of the Amazon River, and along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to northern Chile, including the Galapagos Islands. The nominate subspecies in its breeding plumage has a white head with a yellowish wash on the crown. The nape and neck are dark maroon–brown. The upper sides of the neck have white lines along the base of the gular pouch, and the lower fore neck has a pale yellowish patch. The male and female are similar, but the female is slightly smaller. The nonbreeding adult has a white head and neck. The pink skin around the eyes becomes dull and gray in the nonbreeding season. It lacks any red hue, and the pouch is strongly olivaceous ochre-tinged and the legs are olivaceous gray to blackish-gray.

Distribution And Habitat

The Brown Pelican occurs through coastal areas of southern North America, Central America, and northern South America including the West Indies. It is a common resident seabird in Puerto Rico (Oberle 2018, Raffaele 1989a), with one of the largest breeding colonies in Vieques (Gemmill 2015), and two other important colonies used to monitor the breeding population: Cayo Don Luis and Cayo Fríos in the municipality of Lajas (USFWS 2009a). The population in Puerto Rico experiences major die- offs and low fl edging success, mainly of juvenile individuals (Oberle 2018). This species inhabits shallow inshore waters, estuaries, and bays, avoiding the open sea including lagoons and coastal areas in general, but is also present in inland freshwater reservoirs (BirdLife International 2018, Raffaele and others 1998). The atlas fieldwork yielded a total of 281 records within 144 hexagons or 30 percent of the 479 total hexagons (see map). Of the 144 hexagons where this species was found, breeding met the atlas definition of confirmed in 6 percent (eight) of the hexagons and possible in 5 percent (seven), while the species was observed in 90 percent (129) of the hexagons but without evidence of breeding (see map). Brown Pelican distribution. The map shows the highest breeding code by hexagon and overlaying the ecological life zones in Puerto Rico. Note: percentages may not total 100 due to rounding. 143Brown Pelican/Pelícano Pardo

Brown Pelican Distribution

Breeding Habits

The Brown Pelican nests in colonies, on trees, sometimes on cliffs, near or on the ground mostly in offshore cays (BirdLife International 2018). Breeding is not associated with any season of the year, according to previously published reports (Raffaele and others 1998). Atlas results indicate that most of the breeding activity takes place from March to July, with a peak in June (see chart). Results show that this species is mostly associated with the subtropical moist and subtropical dry forest life zones (53 and 47 percent of the hexagons, respectively) (see table and map).


Overall, Brown Pelican populations are suspected to be increasing throughout the species distribution, and it is classified as a species of least concern by the IUCN (BirdLife International 2018). The Brown Pelican was on the Endangered Species List for many years due to several threats that drastically affected some populations, including organochlorine pesticides such as dichloro- diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT); coastal development; disturbance of nesting colonies by fishermen, boaters, and other recreationists; loss and disturbance of roosts; hurricanes; declines in prey fish; and oil spills (USFWS 2009b). In 2009, the species was delisted and is now considered a recovered species in Puerto Rico (USFWS 2009b) but is still classified as locally endangered and protected by Commonwealth laws in Puerto Rico (PRDNER 2016). In Puerto Rico, the Brown Pelican has a protected habitat in land of 9 percent or 33 km2 of the total area covered by the hexagons where evidence of breeding was found for this species (~359 km2).