American Oceans

Brown Pelican Migration Patterns

The brown pelican is a spectacular bird that never fails to catch the eye of any person it flies by. The question is, will you ever see one? 

In this article, we’ll explore where you can find the brown pelican based on its migration patterns.

Brown Pelican Generalized Locations

The Brown Pelican enjoys inhabiting many locations in the Americas and Canada. They can be found on and around the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.

Brown pelicans who prefer the Atlantic coast can be seen anywhere between Venezuela and North Carolina. Pacific-preferenced pelicans tend to inhabit the coastal areas in between Southern California and Chile. 

In the summer, birds are more likely to shift to the Southern California and North Carolina regions.

Pelicans who live around the Gulf of Mexico inhibit the beaches of Texas, Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, and Haiti. 

Brown Pelican Breeding Grounds

brown pelican chicks in nest

Not all Brown Pelicans have a specific breeding ground, and different pods have different migration patterns. However, pods that are dispersive (move according to breeding sites) have specific locations.

For example, 90% of the Brown Pelicans that inhabit areas in and around Texas breed and nest on two specific islands: Pelican Island in Corpus Christi Bay, and Sundown Island in Matagorda Bay.

Brown Pelican Migration Path

Different pods of Brown Pelicans have different migration habits. Depending on the pod, you may see some pelicans in strange places!

Some pods do not migrate at all and choose to spend most of their time in the same location. In fact, Brown Pelicans don’t even like the open ocean, so if a Pelican is not flying up or down a coast or fishing there are few locations for it to go at all!

Other pods migrate strictly to specific breeding locations, though this is hardly considered a migration. Flying a few miles away from the main coast to an island or bay is more of a local vacation than a destination trip.

However, there are a few pods that do choose to migrate to other locations. Before breeding season, some pods of Brown Pelicans will migrate up the coast to British Columbia to breed and raise their chicks. 

Climate Change Effects

brown pelicanIt is important to note that climate change is expected to change the locations of the Brown Pelican. 

As global temperatures increase, these birds are projected to move both inland and north. Pelicans will most likely begin to inhabit freshwater bodies of water during the breeding season in order to protect their chicks from heatwaves.

Brown Pelicans are expected to be seen in areas as far inland as Las Vegas and Dallas, and as far north as Boston on the east coast.

While their endangered species status is currently listed as “least concern,” the Brown Pelican was seriously endangered in the 1970s. It would be tragic to learn that climate change pushing the birds inland could push them back into endangered status.


brown pelican flyingNot all Brown Pelicans migrate, but pods that do have varying opinions on what migration means! From traveling to a close-by island to flying all the way from Southern California to Vancouver, Canada, these birds always have something surprising in store.

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