Pelican (Pelecanus) is a waterfowl native to all parts of the world except Antarctica. Its figure and, above all, the very elastic skin on the lower beak make the bird unique and quickly recognizable. Eight pelican species have a heterogeneous global distribution ranging in latitude from the tropics to the temperate zone, although birds are absent in the interior of South America, in the polar regions and in the open ocean.
Origin of the species and description
The genus of pelicans (Pelecanus) was first officially described by Linnaeus in 1758. The name comes from the ancient Greek word pelekan (πελεκάν), which comes from the word pelekys (πέλεκυς) meaning "ax". The Pelicanea family was introduced by the French polymath K. Rafinesky in 1815. Pelicans give their name to the Pelecaniformes.
Appearance and features
Photo: Pelican bird
Pelicans are very large water birds. The Dalmatian Pelican can reach the largest sizes. This makes it one of the largest and heaviest flying birds. The smallest species of brown pelican. The skeleton accounts for only about 7% of the body weight of the heaviest pelicans. The most striking feature of pelicans is their beak. The throat sac is extremely enlarged and connected to the lower beak, from which it hangs like an elastic sac of skin. Its capacity can reach 13 liters, it is used as a fishing net for fishing. It closes tightly with its long, slightly downwardly sloping upper beak.
The eight living species have the following characteristics:
- American White Pelican (P. erythrorhynchos): length 1.3–1.8 m, wingspan 2.44–2.9 m, weight 5–9 kg. The plumage is almost completely white, with the exception of the feathers on the wings, visible only in flight,
- American brown pelican (P. occidentalis): length up to 1.4 m, wingspan 2–2.3 m, weight 3.6–4.5 kg. It is the smallest pelican with a brownish-brown plumage.
- Peruvian pelican (P. thagus): length up to 1.52 m, wingspan 2.48 m, average weight 7 kg. Dark with a white stripe from the head to the sides of the neck,
- pink pelican (P. onocrotalus): length 1.40-1.75 m, wingspan 2.45-2.95 m, weight 10-11 kg. The plumage is whitish-pink, with pink spots on the face and legs,
- Australian pelican (P. conspicillatus): length 1.60-1.90 m, wingspan 2.5-3.4 m, weight 4-8.2 kg. Mostly white interspersed with black, with a large, pale pink beak,
- pink-backed pelican (P. rufescens): length 1.25–1.32 m, wingspan 2.65–2.9 m, weight 3.9–7 kg. Gray-white plumage, sometimes pinkish on the back, with a yellow upper jaw and a gray pouch,
- Dalmatian pelican (P. crispus): length 1.60-1.81 m, wingspan 2.70-3.20 m, weight 10-12 kg. The largest grayish-white pelican, has curly feathers on its head and upper neck,
- gray pelican (P. philippensis): length 1.27–1.52 m, wingspan 2.5 m, weight c. 5 kg. Mostly gray-white plumage, with a gray crest. During the breeding season, pinkish with a spotted sac.
Where does the pelican live?
Photo: Pelican in Russia
Modern pelicans live on all continents except Antarctica. There are 2 species in Russia: pink (P. onocrotalus) and curly pelican (P. crispus). In Europe there are numerous populations in the Balkans, the most famous colonies of pink and Dalmatian pelicans are located in the Danube Delta. In addition, these two species are still found on Lake Prespa and on the east coast of the Sea of Azov. In addition, the Dalmatian Pelican is also found in some colonies in the lower Volga and on the northern coast of the Caspian Sea.
These two species and the gray pelican (P. philippensis) are also found in Western and Central Asia. The latter is also found in South Asia. Africa is home to the pink-backed pelican (P. rufescens), which is found in tropical and subtropical regions. Breeding and wintering sites are located in the Roselle Canyon, which stretches from the Sahel to South Africa.
Australia and Tasmania are home to the Australian pelican (P. conspicillatus), which is regularly encountered outside the breeding season in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Lesser Sunda Islands. The American White Pelican (P. erythrorhynchos) breeds in the Midwest of North America and southern Canada, and overwinters along the coasts of North and Central America. The coasts of the American double continent are home to the brown pelican (P. occidentalis).
Interesting fact: In winter, some species withstand severe frosts, but need ice-free waters. Most species prefer fresh water. They can be found in lakes or river deltas, and since pelicans do not dive deep, they need a shallow depth. This is the reason why birds are practically absent in deep lakes. The brown pelican is the only species that lives all year round exclusively by the sea.
Most pelicans are not short-range migratory birds. This applies to tropical species, but also to the Danube Delta Dalmatian Pelicans. On the other hand, pink pelicans from the Danube Delta migrate to the wintering areas of Africa after the breeding season. They spend two to three days in Israel, where tons of fresh fish are delivered to the birds.
What does a pelican eat?
Photo: Pelican's beak
Poultry food consists almost exclusively of fish. Sometimes pelicans are found feeding exclusively on crustaceans. In the Danube Delta, carp and perch are the most important prey for local pelican species. The American White Pelican feeds mainly on carp fish of various species that are of no interest to commercial fisheries. In Africa, pelicans capture cichlids from the genera Tilapia and Haplochromis, and in southeast Africa, eggs and chicks of Cape cormorants (P. capensis). The brown pelican feeds off the coast of Florida on menhaden, herring, anchovies, and Pacific sardines.
Fun fact: Pelicans eat 10% of their weight per day. This is about 1.2 kg for a white pelican. If you add that, the entire pelican population in Nakurusi, Africa, consumes 12,000 kg of fish per day or 4,380 tons of fish per year.
Different species use different hunting methods, but they all hunt mostly in groups. The most common method is to swim, driving the fish into shallow water where they can no longer escape inland and are thus easy to catch. Sometimes these actions are facilitated by strong blows of the wings on the surface of the water. Other options are to form a circle and close the exit of the fish into an open space or two straight lines swimming towards each other.
Pelicans plow through the water with their huge beak and catch the chased fish. The success rate is 20%. After a successful catch, the water remains outside the skin bag and the fish is swallowed whole. All species can also fish alone, and some prefer this, but all species have the methods described above. Only brown and Peruvian pelicans hunt from the air. They capture fish at great depths, descending vertically from a height of 10 to 20 meters.
Now you know where the pelican bird puts the fish. Let's see how he lives in the wild.
Features of character and lifestyle
Photo: Pelican in flight
Lives, reproduces, migrates, feeds in large colonies. Fishing takes up a very small part of the pelican's day, as most individuals finish feeding by 8-9 am. The rest of the day is spent lounging around - cleaning and bathing. These activities take place on sandbanks or small islands.
The bird bathes, tilting its head and body to the water, flapping its wings. The pelican opens its beak or spreads its wings when its temperature rises in order to regulate thermoregulation of the body. Defending their territory, males threaten intruders. The pelican attacks with its beak as its primary weapon.
Interesting fact: Eight living species are divided into two groups, one of which contains four species of adults building terrestrial nests with predominantly white plumage (Australian, curly, great white and American white pelican), and the other contained four species with gray-brown plumage. which preferentially nested in trees (pink, gray and brown pelicans) or on sea cliffs (Peruvian pelican).
The bird's weight makes lifting a very difficult procedure. A pelican has to flap its wings on the surface of the water for a long time before it can rise into the air. But if the bird has successfully taken off, it continues its confident flight. Pelicans can fly for 24 hours without interruption, covering up to 500 km.
The flight speed can reach 56 km / h, the altitude is more than 3000 m. In flight, the pelicans bend their necks back so that the head is between the shoulders, and the heavy beak can be supported by the neck. Since the musculature does not allow a constant flapping of the wings, pelicans alternate long phases of sliding with flapping.
Social structure and reproduction
Photo: Pelican family
Pelicans breed in colonies, while larger and denser colonies are formed by birds that breed on the ground. Mixed colonies are sometimes created: in the Danube Delta, pink and curly pelicans often breed together. Tree-nesting species settle near storks and cormorants. Previously, pelican colonies numbered in the millions, the largest pelican colony to date is a colony on Lake Rukwa in Tanzania with 40,000 pairs.
Breeding season begins in temperate latitudes in spring, for European and North American species in April. In tropical climates, there are usually no fixed breeding periods and eggs can incubate throughout the year. Beaks, pouches, and bare facial skin of all species become brightly colored before the breeding season begins. Males perform a courtship ritual that differs from species to species, but includes raising the head and beak and ballooning the skin sac on the lower beak.
The construction of a nest varies greatly from species to species. Very often, one excavation is made in the soil without any material. Tree nests are more complex designs. The gray pelican breeds on mango trees, fig trees, or coconut trees. The nest consists of branches and is lined with grasses or decaying aquatic plants. It has a diameter of about 75 cm and a height of 30 cm. The stability of the nest is rather low, so a new nest is built every year.
Usually two eggs are laid, but clutches with one or even six eggs appear. Incubation time 30 - 36 days. Chicks are initially naked, but quickly become covered with down. At the age of eight weeks, the down dress is replaced by young plumage. Initially, the cubs ate stale food porridge. The first chick to hatch drives its brothers and sisters out of the nest. At the age of 70 to 85 days, the chicks become independent and leave their parents after 20 days. At the age of three or four, pelicans breed for the first time.
Natural enemies of pelicans
Photo: Pelican bird
In many parts of the world, pelicans have long been hunted for a variety of reasons. In East Asia, the fat layer of juvenile birds is considered a medicine in traditional Chinese medicine. Also in India, this fat is considered effective against rheumatic diseases. In southeastern Europe, beak throat pouches were used to make bags, tobacco sacks, and scabbards.
Interesting fact: South American brown pelican colonies were exploited in a special way. Together with Peruvian boobies and bougainvillea cormorants, feces were collected on a large scale as fertilizer. As workers broke eggs and destroyed chicks, colonies were destroyed during maintenance.
Sustainable coexistence of humans and gray pelicans occurs in the villages of the Indian state of Karnataka. Where pelicans nest on rooftops like white storks. The locals use the excrement as fertilizer and sell the surplus to neighboring villages. Therefore, pelicans are not only tolerated, but also protected. In natural conditions, among animals, pelicans do not have many enemies because of their impressive size.
The main predators of pelicans include:
- crocodiles (attacking an adult bird),
- foxes (hunt chicks),
- predator birds.
Population and status of the species
The number of populations nesting on water bodies that dry out and then fill with water is subject to significant fluctuations - nesting colonies appear and disappear again. However, Dalmatian and Gray Pelicans are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Two subspecies of the brown pelican, namely the Californian and the Atlantic, have also become less common.
The main reason for the decline is the use of DDT and other strong pesticides in the United States. The use of pesticides along with food led to a significant decrease in the fertility of birds. Since 1972, the use of DDT has been banned in the United States, and the numbers have begun to gradually recover. The large African population of the pink pelican is approximately 75,000 pairs. Therefore, despite the decline in individuals in Europe, nothing threatens the species as a whole.
The main reasons for the decline in pelicans are:
- competition of local fishermen for fish,
- drainage of wetlands,
- water pollution,
- overexploitation of fish stocks,
- concern from tourists and fishermen,
- collision with overhead power lines.
In captivity, pelicans adapt well and live up to 20+ years, but rarely breed. Although no pelican species is seriously threatened, many have significantly reduced their populations. An example would be pink pelican, which in ancient Roman times lived in the mouths of the Rhine and Elbe. There were about a million pairs in the Danube Delta in the 19th century. In 1909, this number dropped to 200.
What does it look like
The Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) is the largest flying Australian bird and one of the largest in the world capable of flying. The length of her body ranges from 1.5 to 2 m, weighs 5-13 kg. Males are usually larger than females. With its impressive size, it has a lightweight skeleton, the mass of which is only 10% of the total body weight. The main external feature of the Australian pelican, like all of its relatives, is a massive 50 cm long beak. Another striking feature of the bird is its brown eyes with a white or yellowish ring.
The Australian pelican settles near water bodies. In search of food and a suitable place for building a nest, it travels considerable distances: tens and even hundreds of kilometers. To stay at a certain height (up to 1000 m), the bird uses air currents. Able to reach speeds of up to 56 km / h. The average life expectancy is 10–25 years.
The basis of the pelican's diet is fish. Natural enemies are birds of prey and seagulls that destroy the unattended clutches.
The breeding season can start at any time of the year. There are 1-3 eggs in a clutch, which both parents incubate for 32–35 days. The female lays each egg at intervals of several days, therefore, the chicks are born at different times. The Australian pelican, like a number of other species, has so-called kindergartens where growing chicks gather.
In Australia, this bird species is found everywhere. It also exists in New Guinea, the western part of Indonesia.
Australian Pelican / Pelecanus conspicillatus
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The pink pelican dwells in vast territories stretching from Eastern Europe to the very south of Africa and from the Balkans to the Philippines. Nevertheless, not a single subspecies was formed within this species. Local communities vary in color, size, and anatomical details.
In addition, individual variability is developed.But these variations are insignificant, and do not give grounds for classifying any population as an independent subspecies. Despite living in very different conditions pink pelican - bird monotypic type.
American White Pelican
The peculiarity of this species is the presence of a horny ridge on the beak, which appears during the mating season. In the northern regions of North America, where pelicans of this species live, nesting colonies often number up to five thousand. Birds settle along the banks of rivers and lakes, on the sea coasts. This species has been living in captivity for over thirty years.
The main food for pelicans is fish. Carp, pike, perch, minnow are their favorite delicacies. In salty waters, they hunt gobies, mullet and toads.
Closer to the sea, crabs and shrimps become their delicacy. The daily ration of one adult pelican is about 2 kg of fish.
If for some reason there is not enough fish in the water bodies, pelicans eat birds... Seagulls and ducks are most often attacked by them.
After the pelican has caught the bird, he keeps it under water for a long time until the bird chokes, then eats it, starting from the head.
There are 8 species of pelicans that live on all continents except Antarctica.
Many species live in warm regions, near the coast and estuary, where pelicans eat fish, crustaceans, tadpoles and even turtles.
Brown pelicans spend most of the day by the sea, fishing. And in the late afternoon, a flock of these birds flies into the air and flies away from the water zone to the place of overnight stay. Oddly enough, but the "sleeping place" and "kitchen" of the pelicans are located far from each other.
Pelicans live in close-knit families, where scandals rarely occur.
These good-natured birds do not fight even with impudent seagulls, which can easily snatch the catch from their beak.
Common types of pelican
Of the representatives of this family, only 2 are found on the territory of the Russian Federation. It is a curly and pink pelican. The names of such subspecies speak about the features of these birds and the reflection in the name of the features of their appearance.
There are also black and white, gray and brown pelicans. Some varieties of them are listed in the Red Book. They are an endangered species of birds due to the poisoning of the seas and rivers with chemicals, due to the drainage of swamps, and also due to catching birds for the extraction of skins, from which they subsequently sew clothes.
6 species of pelicans live near freshwater lakes and rivers, and only 2 species prefer the sea coast. All these varieties of pelicans sleep only on land, and therefore it is unrealistic to meet such a bird far out in the sea.
Australian pelican pelecanus conspicillatus
It is the largest flying bird in Australia. Its wingspan reaches from 2.5 to 3.5 meters. Body weight can be from 5 to 6.8 kg, and body length - from 1.6 to 1.9 meters. At the same time, such a pelican has a beak length of 40-50 cm. A leather bag under the beak can hold from 9 to 13 liters of water. The life span of such a pelican is 10-25 years.
This species is distributed throughout Australia, New Guinea and western Indonesia. This pelican lives both in a fresh water body and on the coast of the sea, in a swamp, on a coastal island and in a river floodplain. The Australian pelican can fly over great distances in order to obtain food and build a nesting place.
Dalmatian pelican pelecanus crispus
The body length of such a pelican is up to 180 cm. The wingspan is about 3.5 meters. The weight of an adult of such a pelican reaches from 9 to 14 kg. The plumage color of this type of pelican is mainly white, and the flight feathers are black. Males and females are colored the same.
The curly pelican lives in a vast area from the Balkan Peninsula to Mongolia and the upper reaches of the Yellow River. This species of birds hibernates in Pakistan, Iraq, in the north-west of India and in the south of China. For life, these birds choose lakes, deltas and lower reaches of rivers, as well as areas overgrown with grasses.
American brown pelican pelecanus occidentalis
This pelican is considered the smallest species. Its body length does not exceed 140 cm, and its weight reaches 4.5 kg. This species of birds differs from others in brown plumage, white head and ocher-yellow crown.
This type of species nests on the coast of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. These pelicans do not fly inside the continents.
How do pelicans hunt?
Pelicans also get food in groups. They hunt in different ways. Most often, a flock of birds walks in shallow water, lowering their beaks into the water and scooping it up with their own "nets". Fish gets there too. A hook located at the end of the beak helps them to keep slippery prey.
Scooping up water during the hunt, pelicans raise their head and squeeze it out of their beak, and then swallow all the caught fish. If a large fish is caught in the beak, then the bird has to first toss it up so that it turns head down in flight. Thus, the pelican swallows it.
To drive the fish into shallow water, pelicans flap their wings noisily. Sometimes they are located in 2 lines and drive the fish towards each other.
Pelicans also have a more interesting way of hunting, especially the brown pelican hunts this way. He soars high into the sky and dives noisily, hitting his chest against the water. On the chest of this bird there is a huge pillow of feathers, and therefore there will be no harm from the impact, and the fish from such a rumble stalls and floats to the surface.
Until recently, it was considered a subspecies of the brown pelican. It was recognized as a separate species only in 2007. On the Pacific coast of Chile and Peru, where these pelicans live outside the nesting period, they meet with representatives of brown birds in one area - near Santa Clara Island. Crosses between species have not yet been recorded.
Male and female pelican: the main differences
- Sexual dimorphism in pelicans is weak.
- Females are often smaller than males. They are also less brightly colored than males.
Interesting facts about the bird
- Interesting facts say that the pelican is a sacred bird among Muslims. This is due to the legend that this feathered giant carried stones in his throat bag, from which they erected a shrine in Mecca.
- In Scandinavia, the pelican is considered the emblem of donation. This opinion was taken from the legend that these birds tore apart their own breasts with their beaks and fed the chicks with their own blood.
- The pelican is a giant bird with a wingspan of up to 5 meters. Due to this, a bird of this type is able to fly up to a height of 3000 meters.
- The pelican, especially the pink one, is a flying bird, but despite this, their skeleton is only one tenth of their body weight.
- Pelicans do not have nostrils, but they breathe with the help of their beak.