can recognize a pelican. A second species, the White Pelican,
occasionally winters along the Atlantic and Gulf coast, but this
species does not typically venture out to sea. They only rarely show up
during the winter in the West Indies region, and their larger size and
lighter coloration should eliminate any possibility of confusion.
of both sexes alike though males are larger than
females. Band recoveries suggest only 30% survive first year and fewer
than 2% survive past 10 years. Maximum documented life span 43 years.
Dark breast and belly. Breeding adults have chestnut colored napes and
dorsal surface of necks. Sides of necks white, base of forehead black
and yellow. Non-breeding adults have mostly white necks and heads.
breast and belly, brown necks; face and head patterns of adults lacking.
occur in the Atlantic; the nominate form breeds in the West Indies and
P. o. carolinensis breeds along the coast of North and CentralAmerica.
The West Indies race is the smallest subspecies of the Brown Pelican
and can be recognized by its dark undersurface. Other subspecies breeds
on the Pacific coast of the Americas and the Galapagos Islands.
areas throughout region.
Grand gosier, Pelican burn
Alcatraz, Pelicano café, Pelicano pardo
tropical species that is migratory in the northern portion of its
breeding range. Absent from Bermuda. P. o. carolinensis
region in winter. This subspecies breeds along the Atlantic and Gulf
coasts from the Carolinas south to Texas and along the Central American
Coast from Mexico to Honduras. Also breeds on the Pacific coast of
Honduras. Breeding individuals banded in North Carolina
have been recovered in Cuba.
Indies race resident in Bahamas, Greater and Lesser Antilles, and along
the Caribbean coast of Columbia and Venezuela to Trinidad and Tobago.
Wanders to the Gulf Coast of Florida, Bermuda, east coast of Mexico, and as
far south as northeast Brazil.
out of sight of land, and then usually only in relatively shallow water
km of shore. Largely diurnal. Often feeds in flocks, feeds primarily by
plunge diving, sometimes from heights of 20 m. Prey primarily on
surface dwelling fishes. In Caribbean primary food species are dwarf
herring, anchovies, and sardines. In some areas individual birds become
addicted to handouts from people on fishing docks, boats, etc. Will
follow fishing boats feeding on discarded by-catch, and kitchen scraps.
breeding about 3 years. Breeding cycle takes about ½ a year, but within
West Indies occurs throughout the year with different laying peaks.
Coastal mangroves are the typical nesting habitat for Brown Pelicans in
the West Indies. Stick platform nests are lined with grasses and
leaves. Average clutch size 3 (range 2-4); eggs chalky white.
Incubation 30-35 days, Young leave nest in 11-12 weeks after hatching,
with young from nests on the ground remaining in crèches and continuing
to be fed by
parents for some time. Annual productivity averages about one young per
P. o. carolinensis
United States, 13,422 pairs (Clapp and Buckley 1984), islands off
Central America 500+ pairs (Van Halewyn and Norton 1984)
P. o. occidentalis
1,500 pairs (Collazo, et al. 2000), islands off northern South America
ca 3,000+ pairs (Van Halewyn and Norton 1984). About 1/3 of the regional population nests on Venezuelan Islands.
Approximately only 1,500 nesting pairs in West Indies proper. Total of
18,000 pairs in Atlantic.
et al. (2002) estimate 191,600-193,700 adults (95,800-96,850 pairs) for
the Americas, the higher figure can be accounted for by breeding
populations in the Pacific and the fact that the number of birds in the
Southeastern United States has increased considerably since the early
1980s when most surveys were conducted.
US Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands
Antigua and Barbuda
St. Christopher and Nevis
Trinidad and Tobago
Endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service Atlantic populations of
Brown Pelicans have increased considerably since the 1970s. Because of
small populations and coastal development pelicans are still considered
Endangered in the Bahamas and West Indies where the endemic,
non-migratory subspecies remains in decline (Schreiber and Lee 2000).
pelican populations outside Puerto Rico and the US Virgin islands
limited to nonexistent. In many areas fair to modest numbers of
pelicans are reported but most of these are probably winter visitors
from the continental population. Reports of colony sizes from the
coastal populations in Central and South America are not recent, and
current colony sizes may be a fraction of that in earlier reports.
information on demography and health of populations (other than those
in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands) needed.
Brown Pelicans are extremely susceptible to entanglement in fishing
gear, they rarely forage more than a few miles from the coast and
thereby are not likely to be encountered by pelagic fishery operations.
They are, however, frequently entangled in derelict coastal fishing
gear. In the mid part of the last century Brown Pelican populations
were severely depleted, today they not only have the United States
Atlantic and Gulf ones returned, but breeding colonies have expanded in
size, numbers, and northward from se North Carolina to Maryland. While
this increase is generally and correctly attributed to the removal of
DDT from the environment, the population surge also occurred at a time
when there were major changes in coastal herring fisheries.
information comes from the intensely studies North American
populations, few studies conducted on nominate subspecies. Analysis of
current levels of pesticides and other contaminants in pelican tissues
in West Indies region needed as they are a possible reason for the lack
of local recovery of this species. However, the West Indies population
was not as severely impacted by DDT as continental populations, and
studies of pesticide contamination conducted in Puerto Rico did not
this to be a factor. Nonetheless, the population there continues to
from expanding Laughing Gull populations may be problem as the gulls
are very persistent stealing fish as foraging pelicans surface and
empty the water from their pouches.
disturbance and habitat degradation of nesting and roosting habitat is
currently the major local concern. Alterations of wetlands and
coastlines may affect feeding ability. All colonies need protection
from human disturbance and removal of exotic predators and grazing
mammals as warranted. Oil spills should be monitored for mortality and
for contamination of eggs by brooding adults. Use of organochlorines
and other contaminates should be banned by nations sharing the region.
of recovery plans prepared for Brown Pelicans in Puerto Rico in the
1980’s would be useful for other colonies in West Indies.
R. B. and P. A. Buckley. 1984. Status and conservation of seabirds in
the southeastern United States, Pp. 135-155. in J. P. Croxall, P. G.
Evans and R. W. Schreiber (eds). Status and Conservation of the World's
Seabirds. ICBP Tech. Publ., No. 2. 778 p.
J. A., T. A. Agrdy, E. E. Klaas, J. E. Saliva, and J. Pierce. 1995.
Population biology and status of the Brown Pelican in Pueto Rico and
the U. S. Virgin Islands. Colonian Waterbirds 21: 61-65.
J., J. E. Saliva, and Judy Pierce. (2000). Conservation of the Brown
Pelican in the West Indies. Pp. 39-45. in E. A. Schreiber and D. S. Lee
(eds.) Status and Conservation of West Indian Seabirds. Society of
Caribbean Ornithology, Special Publication Number 1.225 pp.
J. A. 2002. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas: the North American
Waterbird Conservation Plan, Version 1. Waterbird Conservation for the
Americas, Washington, DC, USA., 78 pp.
E. A. and D. S. Lee (eds.) Status and Conservation of West Indian
Seabirds. Society of Caribbean Ornithology, Special Publication Number
M. 2002. Brown Pelican (Pelcanus
occidentalis). In The Birds of North
America, No. 609. (A. Poole and F. Gill, ed.). The Birds of North
America, Inc. Philadelphia, PA.
Halewyn, R. and R. Norton. 1984.The status and conservation of seabirds
in the Caribbean. Pp. 169-222. in J. P. Croxall, P. G. Evans and R. W.
Schreiber (eds). Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP
Tech. Publ., No. 2. 778 p.
Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas by Will
Mackin and David Lee is licensed
under a Creative
Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
License. Based on
work at www.wicbirds.net.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.wicbirds.net.
Citation: Lee, D. S., W. A. Mackin. 2009. Brown Pelican. West Indian
Breeding Seabird Atlas
<http://www.wicbirds.net/brpe.html>. Last Updated: _____.
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