Brown Pelican


Pelecanus occidentalis

Track of Brown Pelican (left foot) taken at Redwood National Park by Kim A. Cabrera. December 17, 2000.
Left track

Track of Brown Pelican (right foot) taken at Redwood National Park by Kim A. Cabrera. December 17, 2000.
Right track

Track Size: 6.25-7 in. L x 3.5-4.5 in. W

Brown Pelican Tracks



Natural History of Brown Pelicans

pelican in flight

Brown pelicans are coastal birds that inhabit the Pacific, Atlantic, and gulf coasts. They are rarely found inland.

Pelican in flight. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera.


Pelican in flight. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera.

Brown pelicans can be up to 4 to 4 1/2 feet long. The head is light colored and the bill is very long; it is longer than the bird's head. The rest of the body is a darker color. The legs and feet are black and the eyes are yellow. The skin pouch that hangs below the bill can hold about three times as much as the stomach. It can hold three gallons of fish and water. Pelicans hold the water in their bill and let it drain off before swallowing the fish. They usually carry fish in the gullet, rather than the pouch. This pouch also helps the bird disperse body heat in warm weather. They can eat four pounds of fish a day.

Gull and pelican tracks. Phot by Kim A. Cabrera

Pelican tracks show four toes, with one pointing behind. All toes are joined by a web of skin. This is called a totipalmate foot.

The pelican diet consists mostly of fish, but they do eat crustaceans.

Gull and pelican tracks. Quarter in middle of picture for size comparison. Pelicans nest in colonies during March and April. Nests can be in trees, shrubs, or on the ground. Nests in trees are built of sticks, grasses and other materials. On the ground, the nests are built of feather and mounds of dirt. Pelicans lay 2 or 3 eggs, which are

chalky white. Incubation lasts between 28 and 30 days. The young who are born in ground nests are able to walk out of the nest at about 35 days. Those whose nests are in trees do not leave the nests for about 63 to 88 days.

Pelicans live in flocks throughout the year. When in flight, they tuck their long neck back and rest their head on their shoulders with the bill resting on the folded neck.

In the 1960s and 1970s, populations of brown pelicans were reduced after DDT in fish caused their egg shells to become too thin for the young to survive. Populations of pelicans recovered a bit after DDT was banned.


Pelicans taking flight at my approach.

A sunny day on the beach at Redwood National Park near Orick. The pelicans and gulls congregated at the shore and allowed me to approach fairly close before they took off.
The arrows indicate where two pelicans landed on the sand. Note the deeper impressions where they landed and the other tracks where the momentum carried them forward.

Tracks of two pelicans landing.

Pelican trail.

A pelican trail in fresh beach sand. The arrow indicates a quarter used for size comparison. The shoe track in the lower right corner is mine.
Another landing site, this one with some wing marks in the sand. Note the gliding motion indicated in the right footprint. The tracks to the right heading toward the camera are gull tracks.

Pelican landing tracks.


Personal Notes on Brown Pelicans

Pelicans and gulls share the shore.

Along the coast here in northern California, brown pelicans can be seen frequently. They sometimes gather along the shore with other birds. They are usually the biggest birds in the group. The photos on this page were all taken in Redwood National Park, along the beach near the south visitor center in Orick. I was able to approach quite closely before the birds took flight. Their tracks are huge compared to those of the gulls they shared the beach with. They couldn't be mistaken for anything else.


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Copyright 1997, 2016. Text, photos, and drawings by Kim A. Cabrera



Copyright 1997, 2016. Kim A. Cabrera - Desert Moon Design

Page last updated: January 26, 2016.