Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican
(Pelecanus occidentalis)

Habitat
Salt bays, ocean, beaches, coastal cliffs. Perches on posts, buoys.

Range
West coast population nests along Pacific Coast from central California southward. Wanders north along coast to Oregon and Washington after breeding, or as non-breeders, in spring through fall.

Eats
Primarily fish, including anchovies, menhaden and sardines.

Feeds
Only species of pelican that dives for prey. Plunges head-first with partially folded wings into the water from heights of up to 65 feet. This heavy-bodied bird doesn't slice neatly into the water; rather, it creates a great splash. Using its long, strong bill and expandable throat pouch like a net, scoops up fish and water together, then surfaces, drains the water and swallows the fish.

Moves
With a wingspan of 7 feet, flight is powerful with measured wing beats alternating with short glides. Fly in long lines low to the water, flapping and gliding in unison with necks tucked against their shoulders.

Reproduction
Seasonally monogamous, requires predator-free sites. On the U.S. Coast, 20% breed on two protected islands located off southern California; 80% breed on islands in the Gulf of California. One brood per year. To incubate, adult covers eggs with its webbed feet. At about one month old, chicks gather into tight groups (creches) of up to 100 birds to regulate body temperature and defend against predators.

Status
Population declined in mid-1900s due to DDT and other pesticides interfering with egg shell formation. Recovering, but still on both Federal and Washington State endangered lists.

Presence in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
Summer

Notes
Frequently seen with head extended back, stretching its large, unfeathered throat pouch to keep the skin flexible. The distensible pouch can hold up to three gallons - about 17 pounds - of water.


The Pelican

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I'm damned if I see how the helican.

Dixon Lanier Merritt, 1910



Contact for page content: Liam Antrim
Photo of peach coral
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