Brown pelican
Pelecanus occidentalis
ITIS Species Code:   174685         NatureServ Element Code:   ABNFC01020
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Southern Blue Ridge:  n/a Southern Piedmont:  n/a South Atl. Coastal Plain:  n/a
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

29.2 %
0.6 %
16.7 %
27.7 %
5.5 %
0.5 %
9.1 %
0.0 %
6.0 %
4.4 %
4.4 %
< 0.1 %
< 0.1 %

69.6 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

10.0 %
0.2 %
5.9 %
9.4 %
1.9 %
0.2 %
3.1 %
0.0 %
2.1 %
< 0.1 %
1.5 %
< 0.1 %
65.6 %

23.8 %
Nests only in a few sites on small, uninhabited coastal islands (Potter et al. 1980). Common on the Outer Banks (Fussell and Lyons 1990); less common in western portions of Pamlico and Neuse estuaries. Population is increasing (Fussell 1994).

Nests colonially on sandy, rocky, or mangrove-covered islands and forages in the ocean or the sound (Kaufman 1996), especially near inlets and salt estuaries (Fussell 1994).

Nest may be located on the ground or in the top of a tree. Foraging is done colonially, by diving from a great height into the water. Pelicans will also scavenge food from fishermen (Ehrlich et al. 1988).


Mainly coastal, rarely (becoming more regular?) seen inland or far out at sea. Feeds mostly in shallow estuarine waters, less often up to 40 miles from shore. Makes extensive use of sand spits, offshore sand bars, and islets for nocturnal roosting and daily loafing, especially by nonbreeders and during the non-nesting season. Dry roosting sites are essential. Some roosting sites eventually may become nesting areas.

BREEDING: Nests usually on coastal islands, on the ground or in small bushes and trees (Palmer 1962). Nests on middle or upper parts of steep rocky slopes of small islands in California and Baja California; usually nests on low-lying islands landward of barrier islands or reefs on Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where often nests in mangroves, sometimes in Australian 'pines,' red-cedars, live oaks, redbays, or sea grapes. In the subtropics and tropics, mangrove vegetation constitutes an important roosting and nesting substrate (Collazo and Klaas 1985, Schreiber 1979, Schreiber and Schreiber 1982). May shift between different breeding sites, apparently in response to changing food supply distribution (Anderson and Gress 1983) and/or to erosion/flooding of nesting sites.

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
378 Ocean Beaches Open beach sand. Upper Beach
3 Tidal Marsh Fresh and brackish tidal marshes, including cord grass, wild rice, sawgrass and needlerush alliances. Brackish Marsh, Interdune pond, Maritime wet grassland
124 Maritime Scrubs and Tidal Shrublands Coastal shrubs including wax-myrtle, swamp rose, alder, yaupon, and greenbriar. Maritime Shrubs, Salt Shrub
375 Hypersaline coastal salt flats Tidal flats within salt marshes, including saltmeadow cordgrass or sea-purslane dominated alliances. Salt Marsh
372 Interdune Herbaceous Wetlands Dune swales with permanently flooded to intermittently exposed hydrology. Species composition depends on salinity and can include cut grass, spike-rush, mosquito fern, and hornwort. Interdune Pond, Maritime Wet Grasslands
371 Maritime Grasslands Dune grass community consisting of sea oats and beach grasses. Dune grass, Maritime dry grassland
75 Tidal Swamp Forest Swamp tupelo dominated forest with or without black tupelo and/or cypress trees. Restricted to the tidal zones in the coastal plain. May have inclusions of coastal red cedar woodlands. Tidal cypress - gum swamp
121 Maritime Pinelands Loblolly forests and woodlands of the outer coastal plain. Estuarine Fringe Loblolly Pine Forest
17 Maritime Forests and Hammocks Maritime forests and woodlands dominated by live or sand laurel oak. Estuarine Fringe forests dominated by loblolly pine. Coastal Fringe Evergreen Forest, Maritime Deciduous Forest, Maritime Deciduous Forest
126 Interdune Wooded Depression Swamp Includes swamps dominated by sweetbay and swampbay or dogwood dominated forests. Maritime Shrub Swamp, Maritime Swamp Forest
380 Coastal Plain Fresh Water Emergent Emergent vegetation in fresh water seepage bogs, ponds and riverbeds of the coastal plain. Includes alliances dominated by sedges, eelgrass, as well as cane found in unforested cane-brakes. Small Depression Pond, Sandhill Seep, Floodplain Pool, Unforested Floodplain Canebrake, Riverscour Prairies, Vernal Pools
173 Coastal Plain Riverbank Shrubs Shrub dominated riverbanks, commonly dominated by willows and/or alders. Sand and Mud Bar
30 Cypress-Gum Floodplain Forests Swamps dominated by black or swamp tupelo with or without Taxodium. Seasonally to semi-permanently flooded hydrology. Cypress-Gum Swamps
78 Pond-Cypress - Gum Swamps, Savannas and Lakeshores Cypress dominated swamps and lakeshores. Can include bays dominated by pond cypress or shorelines of coastal plain lakes with a narrow band of cypress. Non-riverine Swamp Forest, Natural Lakeshores (in part)
60 Sand Exposed sand, predominantly in the sandhills region where disturbance or the extreme site conditions prevent natural regeneration. No equivalent
202 Residential Urban Includes vegetation interspersed in residential areas. Includes lawns, mixed species woodlots, and horticultural shrubs. Vegetation accounts for between 20 - 70% of the cover. No equivalent
203 Urban Low-Intensity Developed Highly developed areas with vegetation accounting for < 20% of the cover. No equivalent
204 Urban High-Intensity Developed and Transportation Corridors Highly developed areas including infrastructure such as roads, railroads. Vegetation represents < 20% of the cover. No equivalent
8 Open water Open water without aquatic vegetation. No equivalent
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Exclude all land greater than 50 meters from an open water feature.
Exclude fresh water habitats.
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1980. Selected vertebrate endangered species of the seacoast of the United States--brown pelican eastern and California subspecies. FWS/OBS-80/01.40.

Schreiber, R.W. and E.A. Schreiber. 1982. Essential habitat of the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis carolinensis) in Florida, USA. Florida Field Naturalist 10: 9-17.

Anderson, D. W., and F. Gress. 1983. Status of a northern population of California brown pelicans. Condor 85:79-88.

Norton, R. L. 1988. The density and relative abundance of Pelecaniformes on the eastern Puerto Rico Bank in December 1982. Caribbean J. Science 24:28-31.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in jeopardy:the imperiled and extinct birds of the United States and Canada, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 259 pp.

Fussell, J. III and M. Lyons. 1990. Birds of the Outer Banks [pamphlet]. Eastern National Parks and Monument Association Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society.

Williams, E. H., Jr., L. Bunkley-Williams, and I. Lopez-Irizarry. 1992. Die-off of brown pelicans in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. American Birds 46:1106-1108.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1993. Cormorants, darters, and pelicans of the world. Smithsonian Inst. Press, Washington, D.C. xiv + 445 pp.

Fussell, J.O. III. 1994. A birderís guide to coastal North Carolina. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Kaufman K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Williams, B. 1989. The first breeding of the brown pelican in Virginia:a chronology. Raven 60:1-3.

Palmer, R. S. (editor). 1962. Handbook of North American birds. Vol. 1. Loons through flamingos. Yale University Press, New Haven. 567 pp.

Clapp, R. B., and P. A. Buckley. 1984. Status and conservation of seabirds in the southeastern United States. Pages 135-155 in Croxall et al., eds. Status and conservation of the world's seabirds. ICBP Tech. Pub. No. 2.

Coulter, M. C. 1984. Seabird conservation in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Pages 237-44 in Croxall et al. (editors). Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. International Council for Bird Preservation Technical Publication. No. 2.

Duffy, D. C., and M. Hurtado. 1984. The conservation and status of seabirds of the Ecuadorian mainland. Pages 231-236 in Croxall et al., eds. Status and conservation of the world's seabirds. ICBP Tech. Pub. No. 2.

Sprunt, A., IV. 1984. The status and conservation of seabirds of the Bahama Islands. Pages 157-168 in Croxall et al., eds. Status and conservation of the world's seabirds. ICBP Tech. Pub. No. 2.

van Halewyn, R., and R. L. Norton. 1984. The status and conservation of seabirds in the Caribbean. Pages 169-222 in Croxall et al., eds. Status and conservation of the world's seabirds. ICBP Tech. Pub. No. 2.

Potter, E. F., J. F. Parnell, and R. P. Teulings. 1980. Birds of the Carolinas. Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. 408 pp.

Terres, J.K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

American Ornithologists' Union (AOU), Committee on Classification and Nomenclature. 1983. Check-list of North American Birds. Sixth Edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas.

Guravich, D, and J. E. Brown. 1983. The return of the brown pelican. Lousiana State Univ. Press, Baton Rouge. viii + 118 pp.

Raffaele, H.A. 1983. A guide to the birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Fondo Educativo Interamericano, San Juan, Puerto Rico. 255 pp.

Hilty, S.L., and W.L. Brown. 1986. A guide to the birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. 836 pp.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook:a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Shuster, Inc., New York. xxx + 785 pp.

Root, T. 1988. Atlas of wintering North American birds:An analysis of Christmas Bird Count data. University of Chicago Press. 336 pp.

Spendelow, J.A., and S.R. Patton. 1988. National atlas of coastal waterbird colonies in the contiguous United States:1976-1982. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Report 88(5). x + 326 pp.

Byrd, M.A., and D.W. Johnston. 1991. Birds. Pages 477-537 in K. Terwilliger, coordinator. Virginia's endangered species:proceedings of a symposium. McDonald and Woodward Publ. Co., Blacksburg, Virginia.

Anderson, D. W. 1988. Dose-response relationship between human disturbance and brown pelican breeding success. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 16:339-345.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1990. Endangered and threatened species recovery program:report to Congress. 406 pp.

Matthews, J. R., and C. J. Moseley (editors). 1990. The Official World Wildlife Fund Guide to Endangered Species of North America. Volume 1. Plants, Mammals. xxiii + pp 1-560 + 33 pp. appendix + 6 pp. glossary + 16 pp. index. Volume 2. Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853