South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis

Length: 50 inches Wingspan: 82 inches Seasonality: Rare Visitor
ID Keys: Distinctive pelican shape, brownish-gray body, lighter head, yellow forehead

Brown Pelican - Pelecanus occidentalisA bird of the coastlines, rarely found inland in South Dakota.  The Brown Pelican is a spectacular plunge-diver, rocketing downward from 75 feet or higher as it plunges for fish below the surface.  Brown Pelicans were seriously endangered by the 1960s, with North American populations reduced to a small Florida population.  With the banning of DDT, Brown Pelicans have made a very strong comeback and are no longer endangered, although it is still officially listed as threatened.

Habitat: Generally shallow waters along coastlines.  Only occasionally found on freshwater lakes. 

Diet: Nearly all fish, occasionally crustaceans.

Behavior: Primarily feeds by plunge-diving.  Will also occasionally dip its bill down for prey while swimming, as well as scavenge for food.

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: Generally silent, with occasional grunts and croaks.

Migration: Normally a year-long resident of coastal areas, Brown Pelicans (especially immatures) occasionally wander inland in the summer.

Interactive eBird Map: Click to access an interactive map of Brown Pelican sightings

Similar Species: American White Pelican

Status: Brown Pelicans declined very sharply by the 1960's, victims of eggshell thinning and breeding failures due to pesticides (primarily DDT).  Brown Pelicans have recovered very well following the banning of DDT, and are still increasing in numbers and range.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Brown Pelican

2) Brown Pelican

3) Brown Pelican

Photo Information: February 13th, 2008 - Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Brown Pelican photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Brown Pelican - Range map 
South Dakota Status: Only a very rare visitor, with a handful of recorded sightings in the state.