Pelican: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Pelican

Include this on your site/blog:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
About this sound Pelican chick
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Pelecanidae
Rafinesque, 1815
Genus: Pelecanus
Linnaeus, 1758

A pelican is a large water bird with a distinctive pouch under the beak, belonging to the bird family Pelecanidae.

Along with the darters, cormorants, gannets, boobies, frigatebirds, and tropicbirds, pelicans make up the order Pelecaniformes. Modern pelicans, of which there are eight species, are found on all continents except Antarctica. They occur mostly in warm regions, though breeding ranges reach 45° south (Australian Pelican, P. conspicillatus) and 60° North (American White Pelicans, P. erythrorhynchos, in western Canada).[1] Birds of inland and coastal waters, they are absent from polar regions, the deep ocean, oceanic islands, and inland South America.



An Australian Pelican gliding with its large wings extended

Pelicans are large birds with large pouched bills. The smallest is the Brown Pelican (P. occidentalis), small individuals of which can be as little as 2.75 kg (6 lb), 106 cm (42 in) long and can have a wingspan of as little as 1.83 m (6 ft). The largest is believed to be the Dalmatian Pelican (P. crispus), at up to 15 kg (33 lb), 183 cm (72 in) long, with a maximum wingspan of 3 metres [nearly 10 foot]. The Australian Pelican has the longest bill of any bird[1].

Pelicans swim well with their short, strong legs and their feet with all four toes webbed (as in all birds placed in the order Pelecaniformes). The tail is short and square, with 20 to 24 feathers. The wings are long and have the unusually large number of 30 to 35 secondary flight feathers. A layer of special fibers deep in the breast muscles can hold the wings rigidly horizontal for gliding and soaring. Thus they can exploit thermals to commute over 150 km (100 miles) to feeding areas.[1]

Pelicans rub the backs of their heads on their preen glands to pick up its oily secretion, which they transfer to their plumage to waterproof it.[1]


The pelicans can be divided into two groups: those with mostly white adult plumage, which nest on the ground (Australian, Dalmatian, Great White, and American White Pelicans), and those with gray or brown plumage, which nest in trees (Pink-backed, Spot-billed, and Brown, plus the Peruvian Pelican, which nests on sea rocks). The Peruvian Pelican is sometimes considered conspecific with the Brown Pelican.[1]


A pelican showing an open throat pouch.

The diet of a Pelican usually consists of fish, but they also eat amphibians, crustaceans and on some occasions, smaller birds.[2][3] They often catch fish by expanding the throat pouch. Then they must drain the pouch above the surface before they can swallow. This operation takes up to a minute, during which time other seabirds are particularly likely to steal the fish. Pelicans in their turn sometimes pirate prey from other seabirds.[1]

The white pelicans often fish in groups. They will form a line to chase schools of small fish into shallow water, and then scoop them up. Large fish are caught with the bill-tip, then tossed up in the air to be caught and slid into the gullet head first.

The Brown Pelican of North America usually plunge-dives for its prey. Rarely, other species such as the Peruvian Pelican and the Australian Pelican practice this method.

A Pelican in St. James' Park in London was once filmed eating a fully grown Pigeon alive [2][3].


Pelicans are gregarious and nest colonially. The ground-nesting (white) species have a complex communal courtship involving a group of males chasing a single female in the air, on land, or in the water while pointing, gaping, and thrusting their bills at each other. They can finish the process in a day. The tree-nesting species have a simpler process in which perched males advertise for females.[1]

In all species copulation begins shortly after pairing and continues for 3 to 10 days before egg-laying. The male brings the nesting material, ground-nesters (which may not build a nest) sometimes in the pouch and tree-nesters crosswise in the bill. The female then heaps the material up to form a simple structure.[1]

A Pelican at San Diego Zoo

Both sexes incubate with the eggs on top of or below the feet. They may display when changing shifts. All species lay at least two eggs, and hatching success for undisturbed pairs can be as high as 95 percent, but because of competition between siblings or outright siblicide, usually all but one nestling dies within the first few weeks (or later in the Pink-backed and Spot-billed species). The young are fed copiously. Before or especially after being fed, they may seem to have a seizure that ends in falling unconscious; the reason is not clearly known.[1]

Parents of ground-nesting species have another strange behavior: they sometimes drag older young around roughly by the head before feeding them. The young of these species gather in "pods" or "crèches" of up to 100 birds in which parents recognize and feed only their own offspring. By 6 to 8 weeks they wander around, occasionally swimming, and may practice communal feeding.[1]

Young of all species fledge 10 to 12 weeks after hatching. They may remain with their parents afterwards, but are now seldom or never fed. Overall breeding success is highly inconsistent.[1]

Pairs are monogamous for a single season, but the pair bond extends only to the nesting area; mates are independent away from the nest.


The Dalmatian Pelican and the Spot-billed Pelican are the rarest species, with the population of the former estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000[4] and that of the latter at 13,000 to 18,000.[5] The most common is believed to be the Australian Pelican, with a population generally estimated at around 400,000 individuals. However, estimates for the species have varied wildly between 100,000 and 1,000,000 over the years, and it is possible that the White Pelican, the population of which is more consistently estimated at 270,000 and 290,000 individuals, is in fact the more common species. The brown pelican may be even more numerous with estimates of 650,000 birds throughout its range. It has been removed from the endangered species list.[6]


From the fossil record it is known that pelicans have been around for over 40 million years, the earliest fossil Pelecanus being found in early Miocene deposits in France. A prehistoric genus has been named Miopelecanus, while Protopelicanus may be a pelicanid or pelecaniform – or a similar aquatic bird such as a pseudotooth bird (Pelagornithidae). The supposed Miocene pelican Liptornis from Argentina is a nomen dubium, being based on hitherto indeterminable fragments.

A number of fossil species are also known from the extant genus Pelecanus:

  • Pelecanus alieus (Late Pliocene of Idaho, USA)
  • Pelecanus cadimurka
  • Pelecanus cauleyi
  • Pelecanus gracilis
  • Pelecanus halieus
  • Pelecanus intermedius
  • Pelecanus odessanus
  • Pelecanus schreiberi
  • Pelecanus sivalensis
  • Pelecanus tirarensis

Symbolism and popular culture

A pelican in her piety
A pelican vulning itself
The IBTS corporate logo incorporates a stylised pelican.
Moche Pelican. Larco Museum Collection Lima, Peru.

In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican became a symbol of the Passion of Jesus and of the Eucharist. It also became a symbol in bestiaries for self-sacrifice, and was used in heraldry ("a pelican in her piety" or "a pelican vulning (wounding) herself"). Another version of this is that the pelican used to kill its young and then resurrect them with its blood, this being analogous to the sacrifice of Jesus. Thus the symbol of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) is a pelican, and for most of its existence the headquarters of the service was located at Pelican House in Dublin, Ireland.

The emblems of both Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and Corpus Christi College, Oxford are pelicans, showing its use as a medieval Christian symbol ('Corpus Christi' means 'body of Christ').

Likewise a folktale from India says that a pelican killed her young by rough treatment but was then so contrite that she resurrected them with her own blood.[1]

These legends may have arisen because pelicans look as if they are stabbing themselves as they often press their bill into their chest to fully empty their pouch. Other possibilities are that they often rest their bills on their breasts, and that the Dalmatian Pelican has a blood-red pouch in the early breeding season.[1]

The symbol is used today on the Louisiana state flag and Louisiana state seal, as the Brown pelican is the Louisiana state bird. The pelican is featured prominently on the seal of Louisiana State University. A pelican logo is used by the Portuguese bank Montepio Geral.[2]

The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped nature.[7] They placed emphasis on animals and often depicted pelicans in their art.[8]

A pelican is depicted on the reverse of the Albanian 1 lek coin, issued in 1996.[9]

The pelican has also been the subject of a poem by John Bennet and subsequent song—The Pelican—by Richard Proulx, composed in 1995. The song was dedicated to the Cathedral Choir of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, Salt Lake City, Utah.

In the 2003 Pixar animated film Finding Nemo, a Brown Pelican named Nigel helps Marlin find his son.

In the Halo series, the UNSC uses a drop ship named the Pelican.

Exceptional behaviors

25 October 2006, a pelican swallowed a living pigeon in St. James Park, London. According to tourists watching it, the pelican walked to the pigeon and grabbed it in its beak, hence starting the 20 minute struggle which ended when the victim was swallowed "head first down while flapping all the way down"[10]. This behavior has been filmed on separate occasions in Saint James Park and also in a zoo in Ukraine [11][12]

Pelican lake in the Zoo Basel

On the 11 May 2008, Debbie Shoemaker needed 20 stitches after a pelican rammed into her face and died, believed to be diving for fish in the sea off Florida[13].

In the Zoo Basel, a Great White Pelican named Killer Jonny hunts and eats any duck (or other smaller bird) that enters the pelican exhibit. Today, there are rarely any ducks on the pelican lake, while on all other bodies of water they are seen in normal numbers.

On the island of Malgas in South Africa, the biologist Marta de Ponte was the first to discover Great White Pelicans eating Cape Gannet chicks[14]. The pelicans were then captured on film exhibiting this behaviour in the BBC documentary Life (BBC TV series). The same breed of pelican has been observed swallowing Cape cormorants, kelp gulls, swift terns and African penguins.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Nelson, J. Bryan; Schreiber, Elizabeth Anne; Schreiber, Ralph W. (2003). "Pelicans". in Christopher Perrins (Ed.). Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Firefly Books. pp. 78–81. ISBN 1-55297-777-3. 
  2. ^ a b "Pelican swallows pigeon in park". BBC News. 25 October 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-25. 
  3. ^ a b "Pelican's pigeon meal not so rare". BBC News. 30 October 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  4. ^ BirdLife International (2006). Pelecanus crispus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006.
  5. ^ BirdLife International (2004). Pelecanus philippensis. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 10 May 2006.
  6. ^ San Francisco Chronicle,, 12 November 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009
  7. ^ Benson, Elizabeth, The Mochica: A Culture of Peru. New York, NY: Praeger Press. 1972
  8. ^ Berrin, Katherine & Larco Museum. The Spirit of Ancient Peru:Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
  9. ^ Bank of Albania. Currency: Albanian coins in circulation, issue of 1995, 1996 and 2000. – Retrieved on 23 March 2009.
  10. ^ "Pelican swallows pigeon in park". BBC. 2006-10-25. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  11. ^ [1],Pelican eats a dove in Ukraine
  12. ^ [url=],Pelican eats a dove in Saint James Park
  13. ^ "Pelican 'bombs' bather in Florida". BBC. 2008-05-11. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  14. ^ "Pelicans filmed gobbling gannets". BBC. 2009-11-05. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PELICAN (Fr. Pelican; Lat. Pelecanus or Pelecanus), a large fish-eating water-fowl, remarkable for the enormous pouch formed by the extensible skin between the lower jaws of its long, and apparently formidable but in reality very weak, bill. The ordinary pelican, the Onocrotalus of the ancients, to whom it was well known, and the Pelecanus onocrotalus of ornithologists, is a very abundant bird in some districts of south-eastern Europe, south-western Asia and north-eastern Africa, occasionally straying, it is believed, into the northern parts of Germany and France; but the possibility of such wanderers having escaped from confinement is always to be regarded,' since few zoological gardens are without examples. Its usual haunts are the shallow margins of the larger lakes and rivers, where fishes are plentiful, since it requires for its sustenance a vast supply of them. The nest is formed among reeds, placed on the ground and lined with grass. Therein two eggs, with white, chalky shells, are commonly laid. The young during the first twelvemonth are of a greyish-brown, but when mature almost the whole plumage, except the black primaries, is white, deeply suffused by a rich blush of rose or salmon-colour, passing into yellow on the crest and lower part of the neck in front. A second and somewhat larger species, Pelecanus crispus, also inhabits Europe. but has a more eastern distribution. This, when adult, is readily distinguishable from the ordinary bird by the absence of the blush from its plumage, and by the curled feathers that project from and overhang each side of the head, which with some difference of coloration of the bill, pouch, bare skin round the eyes and irides give it a wholly distinct expression. Two specimens of the humerus have been found in the English fens (Ibis, 1868, p. 363; Proc. Zool. Society, 1871, p. 702), thus proving the existence of the bird in England at no very distant period, and one of them being that of a young example points to its having been bred in this country. It is possible from their large size that they belonged to P. crispus. Ornithologists have been much divided in opinion as to the number of living species of the genus (cf. op. cit., 1868, p. 264; 1869, p. 571; 1871, p. 631) - the estimate varying from six to ten or eleven; but the former is the number recognized by M. Dubois (Bull. illus. de Belgique, 1883). North America has one, P. erythrorhynchus, very similar. to P. onocrotalus both in appearance and habits, but remarkable for a triangular, horny excrescence developed on the ridge of the male's bill in the breeding season, which falls off without leaving trace of its existence when that is over. Australia has P. conspicillatus, easily distinguished by its black tail and wingcoverts. Of more marine habit are P. philippensis and P. fuscus, the former having a wide range in Southern Asia, and, it is said, reaching Madagascar, and the latter common on the coasts of the warmer parts of both North and South America.

The genus Pelecanus as instituted by Linnaeus included the 1 This caution was not neglected by the prudent, even so long ago as Sir Thomas Browne's days; for he, recording the occurrence of a pelican in Norfolk, was careful to notice that about the same time one of the pelicans kept by the king (Charles II.) in St James's Park, had been lost.

cormorant (q.v.) and gannet as well as the true pelicans, and for a long while these and some other distinct groups, as the snake-birds (q.v.), frigate-birds (q.v.) and tropic-birds (q.v.), which have all the four toes of the foot connected by a web, were regarded as forming a single family, Pelecanidae; but this name has now been restricted to the pelicans only, though all are still usually associated in the suborder Steganopodes of Ciconiiform birds. It may be necessary to state that there is no foundation for the venerable legend of the pelican feeding her young with blood from her own breast, which has given it an important place in ecclesiastical heraldry, except that, as A. D. Bartlett suggested (Proc. Zool. Society, 1869, p. 146), the curious bloody secretion ejected from the mouth of the flamingo may have given rise to the belief, through that bird having been mistaken for the "Pelican of the wilderness." 2 (A. N.)

<< Pelias

Pelion >>

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Unclean bird mentioned in Lev 11:18 and Deut 14:17. Reference to its habit of living in ruins and desolate places is made in Isa 34:11 and Zeph 2:14 (A. V. "cormorant") and in Ps 1026). From its habit of storing quantities of food in the large pouch attached to its lower mandible, for the purpose of feeding its young, which it does by pressing its pouch against its breast, arose the belief that the pelican opened its breast with its bill to feed its young with its own blood - a belief which seemed to derive support from the red at the end of the bill.

Two species of pelican are found on the coast of Syria: the white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) and, less frequently, the Dalmatian (P. crispus). In the Talmud the pelican is assumed to be referred to in Ḥul 63a and Yer. Kil. viii. 6, and in other passages. See also Goose.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.

Simple English

Pink-backed Pelican (Pelecanus rufescens).
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Pelecanidae
Rafinesque, 1815
Genus: Pelecanus
Linnaeus, 1758

Pelicans are a kind of waterbird. They form the genus Pelecanus of the family Pelecanidae. There are several species of pelican.


  • Family Pelecanidae
    • White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)
    • Pink-backed Pelican (Pelecanus rufescens)
    • Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis)
    • Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus)
    • Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
    • American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
    • Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
    • Peruvian Pelican (Pelecanus thagus)


Look up Pelecanidae in Wikispecies, a directory of species
Error creating thumbnail: sh: convert: command not found

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address