How do I identify a brown pelican?

Answered by James Kissner

To identify a brown pelican, there are a few key features to look out for. Firstly, take note of the coloration on the nape and neck. Brown pelicans have a dark maroon-brown color on these areas, which can help distinguish them from other species of pelicans.

Next, observe the upper sides of the neck. Brown pelicans have white lines along the base of their gular pouch, which is the large, expandable throat pouch that they use for catching fish. This white marking is a distinctive characteristic of the species.

Another important feature to look for is a pale yellowish patch on the lower foreneck of the bird. This patch is more pronounced in some individuals and can vary in intensity, but it is a useful field mark for identifying the species.

It’s worth noting that male and female brown pelicans are generally similar in appearance, but the female is slightly smaller in size. This size difference may not always be noticeable unless you have the opportunity to compare individuals side by side.

During the nonbreeding season, adult brown pelicans have a different coloration. Their head and neck turn white, which is a distinct change from their breeding plumage. This transformation is temporary, and they will revert back to their breeding colors during the breeding season.

In summary, to identify a brown pelican, look for the dark maroon-brown coloration on the nape and neck, white lines along the base of the gular pouch, a pale yellowish patch on the lower foreneck, and the white head and neck during the nonbreeding season.