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Brown Pelican Biology

Pelican Web Menu With Graphic Hot Links Click here to go to the Breton NWR Home Page Click here to go to the Breton NWR Home Page Click here to go to the pelican web home page Click here to go to the pelican biology page Clck here to go to the pelican habitat page Click here to see the pelican location maps Click here to see our partners in pelican conservation Click here to see links to more information

To navigate around the "pelican web" use the menu to the right.

All animals need food, water and habitat including appropriate habitat for reproduction and raising their young. Unlike many birds (like cardinals or eagles) that nest alone and in isolation, the brown pelican nests in large colonies. That's why the pelican nesting grounds at Breton National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) are so important.

Our banding and satellite tracking program have proven the overall geographic range of the pelicans that nest at Breton NWR, thereby proving the importance of the refuge to the recovery of this species.

Brown pelicans spend their entire life in or near marine (seawater) habitat. They eat fish that they catch by diving into the water while in flight. They capture the fish and hold them in the expandable pouch under their lower beak (mandible) and then swallow the fish whole. Unlike white pelicans, the brown pelican does not dive for fish from the surface of the water while swimming.

They are good flyers and excellent swimmers. Their large webbed feet serve them well for swimming and for incubating eggs. Yes, they essentially stand on their eggs to incubate them! Before the pesticide DDT was banned, the DDT caused thinning of the shell of the pelican eggs and the pelicans often crushed their own eggs while incubating them.

Photo of newborn brown pelican chicks
All photos this page: Credit USFWS

These two newborn chicks are just hours old. The remaining egg was probably laid later than these two or it may have been infertile. Note the dry grass used to build the nest.

These nest-mates are beginning to grow flight feathers and develop the body form and color of young adults. The grass in the background is typical of what is used by adults to build the nest.
Photo of fuzzy pelican chicks
Photo of two biologists, one holding a pelican the other placing a band on the pelican's leg

Each banded pelican receives a standard USFWS metal band. It can be used to identify the specific bird. The number on this band is usually not discernable from a distance.

They also receive a colored plastic band with an alpha-numeric code that is visible from a distance. The combination of the color, the code and the identity of the bird as a brown pelican can be used to identify theĀ  specific bird. Photo of the biologots gluing the plastic band on the pelican's leg
Photo of a banded brown pelican standing on a boat dock

Here is a banded brown pelican with a white band and the code IJ9. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can use the code and species information to determine the bird's age, sex, where and when it was banded and other vital statistics recorded when it was banded. Most pelicans are banded before they fledge when they're easier to catch and band.

The satellite transmitters were fitted to adult pelicans.

Here is a banded brown pelican with a yellow band and the code E82.

Close-up photo of a banded brown pelican

Last Updated on January 13, 2011