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Great White Pelican


Quick Facts

Scientific name: Pelecanus onocrotalus
Class: Bird
Length: 55 to 71 inches (140 to 180 centimeters)
Wingspan: 7.41 to 11.81 feet (2.3 to 3.6 meters)
Weight: 11 to 33 pounds (5 to 15 kilograms)
Life span: 50 to 60 years
Incubation: 31 days
Number of eggs: 1 to 3 eggs
Age of maturity: 3 to 4 years
Conservation status: Least concern


Odd-looking bird

Great white pelicans are some of the most easily recognized birds in the world. Yellow elastic pouches for holding fish hang off the beak. Like vultures, the face of the pelican is bare and pink flesh. The yellow feet of the pelican are webbed for paddling through water.

Keeping clean

Early in the mornings, pelicans fish. The rest of the day pelicans bathe and straighten out their feathers. A pod of pelicans will splash and dive through the water, flapping their wings wildly. Then they paddle to the shores and smooth out their feathers.

Big-bill fishing

In Africa, groups of eight to twelve pelicans work together in a “U” shape to chase fish into the shallow ends of lakes, swamps, marches, and deltas. Pelicans scoop fish up, tilt their heads back, and swallow them whole. Unlike cartoon pelicans, this species doesn’t fly with fish in their mouths. These fish are often cichlids in Africa and carp for migrating pelicans in Europe.

Tricks are for Pelicans

Because they work together, pelicans often trick each other and steal each other’s food. While one pelican tries to swallow a large fish, another will sneak up and steal the food right out of its mouth. They also eat eggs and chicks from other water birds, like the Cape cormorant.

Big appetite, little chick

Even though great white pelicans lay two eggs, only one chick usually survives. Each pelican chick eats approximately 150 pounds of fish before it can search for food on its own. A week or two after hatching, a chick can crawl, but still not lift their heavy beaks. After another week, this species can walk and swim. They naturally run and flap their wings as they get older but cannot fly until nine or ten weeks old.



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