Pin Me

Interesting Facts about Pelicans

written by: Diana Cooper•edited by: Jason C. Chavis•updated: 6/23/2010

Learn how these wonderful birds catch their dinner and how other birds try to take it away from them. Find more fun and interesting facts about pelicans in this article.

  • slide 1 of 7


    White Pelicans There are eight species of pelicans that can be found living on many of the world's coastlines, rivers, and lakes. The white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) and the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) live in the United States. The white pelican is the more common of the two birds. They live on coastal and inland areas and the brown pelican lives primarily on coastal areas.

    Pelicans are extremely social birds. They enjoy being around other pelicans and they have a very good tolerance being around other birds. Below, are more interesting facts about pelicans.

  • slide 2 of 7


    Brown Pelican (gulping a fish) Depending on the species, the body length can range from 4 to 6 feet and the weight can range from 10 to 30 pounds. The brown pelican is generally smaller than the white pelican. All species have an elongated bill and throat pouch. The typical bill is about 18 inches long (the largest among birds). The pouch is used to catch fish and rainwater for drinking.

    Pelicans have a large body, short legs, and large webbed feet. They are strong fliers despite their unusual build and they are excellent swimmers because of their feet (which help with propulsion and steering).

  • slide 3 of 7


    Pelican diets consist mostly of fish. However, they will not turn down the opportunity of eating a small amphibian or reptile. White pelicans usually swim in small groups (in shallow water) and simply scoop up the fish into their pouch. The brown pelican is a bit more dramatic. They can spot a fish high above the water and will dive into the water head first to catch their fish. Unfortunately, this wonderful ability they have has caused problems and deaths from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

    The pelican does not use its pouch to store fish. Soon after catching it, they tip their head forward so the water can spill out and then they swallow the fish. Adult pelicans can eat up to four pounds of fish a day. In fact, many fishermen see them as competitors. However, according to numerous studies, pelicans seem to prefer "rough" fish (for example, carp, mullet, and minnows) which are not favorites with humans.

  • slide 4 of 7


    Pelicans nest near the water or in trees. Both the females and males build the nest, using their pouches to carry grass, twigs, and feathers. Both take part in incubating the eggs. The female will lay 1 to 3 eggs and the incubation period lasts about 28 to 36 days. Young pelicans will reach down the parent's gullet to get food. Fledging occurs about 2 - 2 1/2 months after hatching.

  • slide 5 of 7

    More about these Wonderful Birds

    The following are more fun and interesting facts about pelicans:

    • Fossils of pelicans date back almost 40 million years ago.

    • The Dalmatian pelican, the largest species, has a wingspan that can reach the length of 11 1/2 feet.

    • Pouches can hold up to three gallons of water (2 - 3 times the amount their stomachs can hold).

    • Pelicans will flap their pouches to cool off on hot days.

    • Gulls will often sit on a pelican's head to steal its fish when it opens its bill to pour out the water.

    • In the wild, the average lifespan is 10 to 30 years.

  • slide 6 of 7


    Pelican (Pelecanus) -

    Pelican -

    Birds: Pelican -

  • slide 7 of 7

    Image Sources

    White pelicans image courtesy of

    Brown pelican image courtesy of