Pelican Bird Habitat

Pelicans dwell near bodies of water that harbor fish and waterfowl.
Pelicans dwell near bodies of water that harbor fish and waterfowl. (Image: pelican image by Byron Moore from

Along coastal watersheds, a pelican’s majestic flight into the air always captures an avid birdwatcher’s eye. A pelican’s natural habitat forms the cornerstone for this bird family’s survival. Located along bodies of water where fish and small waterfowl thrive, such a habitat provides both food and nesting grounds for the pelican.


The pelican bird family consists of eight modern species, each preferring varying habitat attributes and characteristics. These species include the brown, Peruvian, American white, great white, dalmatian, pink-backed, spot-billed and Australian pelican. White-plumed pelicans prefer habitats that can accommodate ground nesting, while gray and brown-plumed pelicans live in habitats with tree-based nesting sites.


Pelicans possess a large throat pouch to swallow and hold food. Their diet consists mainly of fish, amphibians, crustaceans and small birds. The pelican must inhabit the same environment as its food source, near bodies of water. In addition, pelicans make use of their habitat to establish nests aggregated in colonies. This type of behavior encourages social interaction among different birds and promotes widespread mating rituals.


Depending on the specific species, some pelicans prefer to live along coastal shores, while others live near inland lakes. All pelicans inhabit warm, temperate regions near bodies of water. A marine environment is essential for pelican survival because they rely on fish as their main source of food. Although pelicans can fly for extended amounts of time, they usually avoid deep ocean waters and polar regions.


Pelicans live on every continent except Antarctica, according to the San Diego Zoo website, but the majority of the worldwide pelican population exists along United States coastal waters, the western coastlines of South America, the southern half of Africa and the Australian continent. Due to its heavy presence along southern U.S. coasts, the state of Louisiana declared the brown pelican its official state bird in the 1960s.

Wildlife Status

The pelican population reached dangerously low levels in the early 1900s due to extensive hunting and pesticide poisoning, most notably the advent of DDT, points out the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. With the official ban of DDT pesticide and increased federal protection, the pelican left the Atlantic Coast Endangered Species list in 1985. As of 2010, pelicans remain off endangered species lists worldwide, with their natural habitats secure.

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