What flies with a large pouch and never has to go through airport security? A California Brown Pelican!

Pelicans form graceful V-shaped formations hunting for schools of fish.

The California Brown Pelican stops by for a couple of weeks each year in Bandon. One of the best places to watch these large birds as they plunge-dive for fish is on Jetty Road SW near the mouth of the Coquille River in Bandon, Oregon.

How big?

California Brown Pelicans are hard to miss with a wingspan of nearly 79-inches and a body length of 54-inches! Their size is further underscored when they fly in neat, V-shaped formations over the surf hunting for schools of fish.


As they plunge into the water, their famed three-gallon throat pouch scoops up their prey. Only the California Brown and a closely related Peruvian species make these spectacular plunging sideline dives into the water. There are ten pelican species.

Where to find them

Pelicans congregate in large numbers at the mouth of several Oregon bays during migration. You will often see them roosting on rocky formations, pilings or peers or hear their loud “screaming” call.

They migrate to/from winter breeding grounds in southern California and Mexico. They range from Vancouver Island, Canada to northern South America. Approximately 20,000 pelicans living on the Oregon coast in the summer.


They can also be comical panhandlers and may beg from humans. They often hang out looking for opportunistic snacks such as fish scraps, crustaceans, lizards, smaller birds or eggs, turtles, etc.  U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife has warned the public to:
–Not feed the birds (human foods can injure or lead to starvation),
–Leave the birds alone (if they are hanging out here, they are not breeding), and
–Avoid attempting to pet them or interact with them (no selfies please!).


These magnificent dare devils were recently removed from the endangered list in December (2019). They are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is illegal to capture, kill, or possess a California Brown Pelican. Each violation comes with a maximum punishment of $15,000 in fines and six months in jail.

For more information check: US Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Bandon Marsh site at https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Bandon_Marsh/wildlife_and_habitat/waterfowl.html

–Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Pelicans and Cormorants at https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/pelicans-and-cormorants (there is a link so you can hear their calls near the bottom of the page).
Brown pelicans lingering on Oregon Coast see: https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2010/01/brown_pelicans_overstaying_the.html

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