Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis

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With the possible exception of the sea gull, there are few birds outside of the pelican that are more closely associated with the coast, harbors and bays. Brown Pelicans are a common sight in Newport, often congregating in large numbers on the jetties near the mouth of the Yaquina Bay, hunting crustaceans in the estuary or roosting on rocky outcrops up and down the coast. They form neat, V-shaped formations as they cruise over the surf searching for schools of fish. Once they spot their prey, the birds will dive head-first into the water, opening their mouths and scooping up fish in the expandable pouches below their beaks. It is, in fact, this pouch which is the Brown Pelican’s most distinctive physical feature. As the name suggests, the bird typically has brown or gray-brown plumage. Their necks are S-shaped and can be covered in pale or light brown feathers. If not seen, they can still be identified by the loud “screaming” noises they produce.

Range and Habitat

Brown Pelicans can be found along coastal, inshore and fresh waters. They will often roost on rocky formations, pilings or piers and will sometimes scavenge from people. They can range from as far north as Vancouver Island to South America.

Conservation Status

Removed from the federal Endangered Species List in 2009. During the 1970s, these birds were one of the major species affected by DDT poisoning which caused females to produce thin-shelled eggs that rarely hatched. Since the banning of DDT and other harmful pesticides, the species has rebounded but not to its historical numbers. It is still protected in Oregon.

Endangered Oregon: Diver and Survivor

Pushed to the brink of extinction in the mid-20th century, the recovery of the Brown Pelican population is a great success story for environmental conservation... and a warning for future generations.