Where To See
Look for Nesting Pelicans On Both Coasts
Brown pelicans are salt water birds, apt to be seen anytime, anywhere along the coast. It's uncommon to find a brown pelican in fresh water. The major nesting period is in early spring, although they may nest year-round in the Keys.
Brown pelicans nest on many of the spoil islands in the Indian River in Central Florida, but none is more heavily used than Pelican Island NWR, the first NWR in the entire nation.
Established in 1903, the tiny 3.5-acre island was protected by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt in order to stop the "sport" of randomly shooting and killing birds on the nest.
The refuge has since grown to encompass thousands of acres, for thousands of nesting brown pelicans as well as egrets, cormorants, ibis and frigate birds.
The original Pelican Island can be viewed with a powerful scope from the town of Sebastian, where a rental boat can also be arranged. The islands are closed to visitors, but the birds can still be viewed from close quarters.
Going south, on both coasts, brown pelicans are apt to be seen nesting in the branches of coastal mangroves anywhere the trees are thick, and people and predators are scarce.
That would include many small islets in the Florida Keys, Biscayne National Park near Homestead, Ten Thousand Islands NWR on the northeast fringe of Everglades National Park, Florida Bay and the Flamingo area in Everglades National Park, J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR on Sanibel Island, Cayo Costa Island across from Boca Grande, and almost any other concentration of thick mangroves in the area.
Gaillard Island in Mobile Bay, AL, is considered to have perhaps the largest brown pelican colony in the whole United States. As many as 2,500 different pairs nest there in a single season. It can be visited only by boat.
Brown Pelican Homepage Learn the natural history of this remarkable bird.