• Text Size:
  • A
  • A
  • A

Brown Pelican

The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is often seen soaring over the beaches of Hilton Head Island in a long line of individuals. This bird has short legs, a large body with a 6.5-7.5 foot wingspan, and a long bill with an enormous pouch. The adults have white heads and the young have brown heads. They live along the South Carolina coast and fish in the ocean and other marine waterbodies, diving from overhead to catch fish such as menhaden, mullet and herring. Brown pelicans nest in groups (colonies) near water, laying 2-3 eggs per nest either on the ground, in trees or in low bushes.

As with other fish-eating birds, brown pelicans were greatly affected by the pesticide DDT, which made its way into marine food webs. Tens of thousands of breeding brown pelicans had disappeared from states such as Texas and Louisiana by the early 1960s, and they were listed as an endangered species in 1970. Because of the dramatic decline in the use of DDT and other related pesticides (called organochlorines) since that time, pelican populations have rebounded, and the species was delisted in 2009. They still face threats from loss of nesting and roosting habitat and human disturbance, especially when breeding.

Additional Resources:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology - All About Birds: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown_Pelican/id