Interesting Variations in California Brown Pelican Plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Winter 2022/2023 Part I

By December 20, 2022January 30th, 2023Pelicans of La Jolla, Seabird

This is the time of year that I photograph in La Jolla often, and California brown pelicans are one of my favorite subjects.  Adult brown pelicans are now entering the period when they display vibrant breeding and non-breeding winter plumage. And there is a variety of juvenile plumage to be seen as well.  I have also been focusing on the yellow/orange morphs of the California brown pelican, sporting a yellowish/orange throat as opposed to the bright red, seen in both breeding and non-breeding adults.  Here is a little sampler to show off some of the variety of plumage I’ve seen in just the past week or so.  Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Classic adult winter breeding plumage, with brown hind-neck, yellow and white head, and red and olive throat pouch.  White trim between the brown nape and red throat, with a yellow chevron at the base of the neck above a dark gray breast.  Some pink around the eye is common.

Winter adult transitioning to breeding plumage. The white hind-neck of the non-breeding adult is gone and the brown hind neck feathers are just filling in.

Yellow morph of the adult winter breeding plumage. The bright red is gone, instead we see a yellow-orange throat pouch, unusual but not rare.

“Man Bun”: what appears to be an adult transitioning into breeding plumage where the hind-neck feathers appear only on the top of the head like a samurai’s top knot.  Note also the speckling and large spot on the head, which is unusual and makes me think this is a older sub-adult.

Adult winter non-breeding plumage. Note the white hind neck rather than dark brown.

Juvenile, likely second or third winter, with beautiful mottled pattern and noticeable pink around the eye.

Immature, suspect second or third winter.

Juvenile, likely first winter / young of the year, uniform chocolate brown with a little yellow and/or olive on the bill.  No pink around the eye.

About Phil Colla

I am a natural history photographer. I enjoy making compelling images in the ocean, on land, and in the air. I have maintained the Natural History Photography blog since 2005 and my searchable Natural History Photography Library since 1997. Here are some tear sheets and behind the scenes views. Thanks for looking!