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Brown Pelicans in California

Come and see unique brown pelicans in their natural habitat

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

The Channel Islands National Park off the coast near Santa Barbara is the only breeding ground for California brown pelicans. These seabirds were classified as federally endangered, thus their conservation and preservation are critically important.

The brown pelican breeding range can be found from the Channel Islands to central Mexico. They weigh about 3.5 kg and are approximately 1.2 m high and with an almost 2 m wingspan. They have short dark legs, a large and heavy body, and a large beak. Both sexes look similar, but males are a bit larger. They are quite weak walkers but very strong swimmers due to the webbing between all four toes. Brown pelicans are plunge divers, and that differs them from the rest of pelicans. They can dive from 3 to 9 m below the surface in search for food. Their diet mainly consists of northern anchovy, the Pacific sardine, and the Pacific mackerel. Brown pelicans' lifespan is around 40 years. During breeding season the distal end of the beak turns reddish, the proximal end of the throat and the iris change color as well. Usual colors return during the incubation period.

The nesting season runs from January through October. The birds build large nest structures on the ground or trees. The peak of egg laying season appears during March and April, sometimes till June. Parents share incubation duties in turns. After hatching, pelican chicks are bald and absolutely helpless. They are dependant on parental care for the first three to four weeks. Brown pelicans live close to their breeding grounds. During summer they move north, to British Columbia, and return to the south in early winter.

There is usually no access to the islands from January through October. Boats are kept offshore to protect nests and fledglings from human intervention.

Practical info

When is the best time of the year to visit the Channel Islands to see California brown pelicans?

The California brown pelicans nest from January to October in the Channel Islands, making these months the best time to visit. During this season, we can observe the pelicans building their nests and co-parenting their hatchlings, since the duty of incubation is shared between the parents. To prevent human intervention, boats are not permitted to land on the island during the breeding season. Show more

What makes plunge divers different from other kinds of pelicans?

California brown pelicans are unique as plunge divers, as they dive from 3 to 9 meters below the surface to fish, unlike other pelican species that feed while swimming. Brown pelicans are powerful swimmers, with webbing between their four toes, and they mainly prey upon species such as the northern anchovy, Pacific sardine, and Pacific mackerel. Show more

Where can I find the breeding range of brown pelicans and how far does it extend?

The Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara represent the only breeding grounds of California brown pelicans, whose breeding range spans from the Channel Islands to central Mexico. During breeding season, these pelicans exhibit physical changes, such as reddish distal beaks, and alterations to the colors of their iris and proximal throats. Notably, brown pelicans have large bodies, dark legs and large beaks. Show more

How do brown pelican parents share the responsibilities of incubating eggs and taking care of chicks?

During breeding seasons, California brown pelican parents take turns incubating eggs and exhibiting parental care. Care is particularly crucial for the first three to four weeks when the chicks are bald and dependent on their parents. Both parents contribute to caring for the chicks, such as bringing food to the nest and watching over them. During summer, brown pelicans move to British Columbia and return south when winter begins. Show more

Can visitors access Channel Islands National Park during the brown pelican nesting season?

Typically, visitors cannot access the Channel Islands National Park from January to October when California brown pelicans nest. Boat access is restricted during this season, and visitors are prohibited from landing on the island to ensure the protection of nests and newborns. Nonetheless, bird watchers interested in observing brown pelicans can do so from a distance during these months. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin