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Why Is Louisiana Called the Pelican State?

Dan Harkins
Updated: May 17, 2024

Louisiana adopted the pelican as its official state bird in 1966, but it has been known as the "Pelican State" long before that due to the abundance of the animals along the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River shores. The brown pelican has symbolized the state of Louisiana since European colonists first noted the prevalence of the birds and their protective parental instincts. When the state was formed in 1812, the state's unofficial nickname was the "Pelican State."

The theme of the "Pelican State" has also crossed over into other Louisiana emblems. The brown pelican became the official state bird when a pelican mother nursing her young was made a part of the state's official seal. Louisiana's state seal, which was approved by the legislature in 1902, along with the state coin and flag, all feature pictures of the brown pelican, often along with a trumpet to signify New Orleans' status as the birthplace of jazz.

In 1966, due to the predominant use of pesticides by farmers in Louisiana and in all other states up and down the Mississippi River, brown pelicans became endangered along the Gulf Coast region, choosing other locations to build their nests. Conservation and habitat restoration efforts, however, led the U.S. government in 1995 to declare that the population had been restored. The brown pelican continues to go about its business of finding fish and staying clear of the alligators throughout the bayous and backwater towns of swampy Louisiana.

The brown pelican often can be seen flying in "V" formations that resemble the alignment of air show planes. The birds can be found all along coastlines throughout South, Central and North America, even making their way inland on occasion to fish in lakes and rivers. With a white head, brown body and yellowed beak and forehead, this pelican is the smallest of the world's pelican species, despite their ability to grow as long as 5 feet (or 1.5 m) with wingspans as wide as 8 feet (or 2.5 m). They dive-bomb for their food and can store several portions in a pouch that extends below their beaks — either for a later snack or to feed their young back at the nest.

The Pelican State is not the only nickname for Louisiana, though. It is also widely known as "The Birthplace of Jazz," "The Child of the Mississippi," "The Bayou State," "The Creole State," "The Sugar State" and the "Holland of America." Another widespread nickname for Louisiana is "The Sportsman's Paradise," which is featured on the state's license plate.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.
Discussion Comments
By stl156 — On Oct 25, 2011

@JimmyT - You could be right with your assessment and I do feel it would be best to hear what someone has to say that is from Louisiana. However, I have to disagree on saying that "The Pelican State" is an appropriate nickname and that someone from Louisiana would probably agree with me.

The State Nickname is supposed to be something that people can identify with the state and when I think of Louisiana I think of Jazz and the Creole culture, not Pelicans.

Maybe it is a nickname that they have had since the state's founding, but it definitely does not represent the state well which is what a state nickname is supposed to do.

I find the state of Louisiana among the most unique and diverse areas in the United States of America and feel like it should have a unique state nickname to show the diversity that it offers. Sure there may be a lot of pelicans in the state, but I am sure people that live in Louisiana do not take as much pride in their pelicans as they do in their state history and culture.

By JimmyT — On Oct 25, 2011

@Emilski - I think that the state nickname is simply something is not taken in very high regard and that is why they do not change the state nickname. Maybe the state of Louisiana embraces its culture so much that they do not feel like they need to change the nickname of their state.

I am sure that people across America are aware and know the culture of Louisiana and the citizens of the state do not feel like they need to change their nickname to make it more well known.

Also, maybe they want to continue to keep the name "The Pelican State" because they feel like it is an historical nickname and that they do not need to make the name something that people already know about Louisiana. Maybe it is something unique that they like to have and they do not choose to change the name. It would be nice to hear from someone from Louisiana to see what they have to say about this issue.

By Emilski — On Oct 24, 2011

@Izzy78 - I completely agree with you. I like pelicans and think that they are very interesting creatures, but to identify the state of Louisiana as the land of pelicans, considering all the state culture and history is just ridiculous.

I have visited Louisiana on many occasions and can never get over how interesting and unique it is from other states. The creole culture that is high in the area is so captivating and there are very few other places in America that display this culture, yet Louisiana still has to be known as the pelican state.

I agree, I bet that they only keep this name because of tradition concerning the states founding. I think it is about time for the state to lose that nickname and adopt something that displays the culture of Louisiana more and gives people something to identify with.

By Izzy78 — On Oct 23, 2011

I find it very surprising that out of all the the nicknames they could have picked for the state of Louisiana they pick a bird as their nickname.

I understand that the brown pelican is an animal that I guess is very common in Louisiana, but there are so many different aspects of culture in Louisiana that make it unique from other states.

I guess it could be something that is just some sort of tradition that cannot die. Maybe when Louisiana was settled the explorers of people passing through identified it as the land of pelicans as a way to associate it from other areas and this has just stuck over the years.

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
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