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Superb fishers, Brown Pelicans are noted for their spectacular head-first dives from as high as 60 feet upon sighting prey. The bird surfaces with a fish trapped in its expandable pouch, tilts its bill down to drain out water, then tosses its head back to swallow. Prey includes small fish and some crustaceans. Of the world's pelican species, only Brown Pelicans feed by plunge-diving.
Home Sweet Home
Brown Pelicans are found in shallow, warm coastal waters, particularly on sheltered bays. They breed in scattered locations along the Atlantic Coast from Maryland southward around Florida, and westward to southern Texas and Mexico; and on the Pacific Coast from southern California down to South America. Highly social year-round, they breed in colonies of up to several thousand pairs. Pairs build nests on the ground, on cliffs, or in low trees like mangroves. Typically, males gather nesting materials and females build nests, which range from simple scrapes on the ground to elaborate stick nests in trees. Two to four white eggs are incubated under the parents' webbed feet for nearly a month. Both parents feed their young predigested fish.
How Am I Doing?
Brown Pelicans were removed from the endangered species list in 2010 – five months before the BP oil disaster began. Fortunately, years of effective conservation measures including the banning of DDT and targeted stewardship efforts meant that pelican numbers were sufficient and their range broad enough for the species’ apparent resilience despite the BP disaster. However, long-term impacts of the spill will be revealed only over time.
Help from Audubon
Audubon’s work to protect and reestablish Brown Pelicans along the Gulf Coast, save and restore crucial pelican habitat, and support the National Wildlife Refuge system contributed to the Brown Pelican’s recovery from endangered status. Ongoing habitat protection and enhancement, oil spill-response activities, and nesting-colony protection efforts aim to keep populations healthy and strong.
The oldest known Brown Pelican lived 43 years.