|Habitat||Salt bays, beaches, ocean. Mostly over shallow waters along immediate coast, especially on sheltered bays; sometimes seen well out to sea. Nests on islands, which may be either bare and rocky or covered with mangroves or other trees. Strays may appear on fresh water lakes inland.|
Forages by diving from the air, from as high as 60' above water, plunging into water headfirst and coming to surface with fish in bill. Tilts bill down to drain water out of pouch, then tosses head back to swallow. Will scavenge at times and will become tame, approaching fishermen for handouts.
3, sometimes 2-4. White, becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by both sexes, roughly 28-30 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Young may leave ground nests after about 5 weeks and gather in groups, where returning parents apparently can recognize own offspring. Young may remain in tree nests longer (perhaps up to 9 weeks) before clambering about in branches. Age at first flight varies, reportedly 9-12 weeks or more. Adults continue to feed young for some time after they leave colony. 1 brood per year.
Both parents feed young. Young may leave ground nests after about 5 weeks and gather in groups, where returning parents apparently can recognize own offspring. Young may remain in tree nests longer (perhaps up to 9 weeks) before clambering about in branches. Age at first flight varies, reportedly 9-12 weeks or more. Adults continue to feed young for some time after they leave colony. 1 brood per year.
Almost entirely fish. Types of fish known to be important in some areas include menhaden, smelt, anchovies. Also some crustaceans.
Nests in colonies. Nest: Site is on ground or cliff of island, or on low trees such as mangroves. Nest (built by female, with material gathered by male) may be simple scrape in soil, heap of debris with depression at top, or large stick nest in tree.
Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.
Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
Download Our Bird Guide App
After breeding season, flocks move north along both Atlantic and Pacific coasts. These birds return southward to warmer waters by winter. Small numbers of immatures regularly wander inland in summer, especially in southwest.
- All Seasons - Common
- All Seasons - Uncommon
- Breeding - Common
- Breeding - Uncommon
- Winter - Common
- Winter - Uncommon
- Migration - Common
- Migration - Uncommon
See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsUsually silent, but utters low grunts on nesting grounds.
Learn more about this sound collection.
How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Brown Pelican
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.
Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.
Climate threats facing the Brown Pelican
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.