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Pelecanidae

Pelican
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos ©Frank Schulenburg

The Pelecanidae or Pelicans, are a genus of large water birds. They are characterised by a long beak and a large throat pouch used for catching prey and draining water from the scooped up contents before swallowing. They have predominantly pale plumage, the exceptions being the brown and Peruvian pelicans. The bills, pouches and bare facial skin of all species become brightly coloured before the breeding season. The eight living pelican species have a patchy global distribution, ranging latitudinally from the tropics to the temperate zone, though they are absent from interior South America as well as from polar regions and the open ocean.

Long thought to be related to frigatebirds, cormorants, tropicbirds, gannets and boobies, pelicans instead are now known to be most closely related to the shoebill and hamerkop, and are placed in the order Pelecaniformes. Ibises, spoonbills and herons are more distant relatives, and have been classified in the same order. Fossil evidence of pelicans dates back to at least 30 million years to the remains of a beak very similar to that of modern species recovered from Oligocene strata in France. They are thought to have evolved in the Old World and spread into the Americas; this is reflected in the relationships within the genus as the eight species divide into Old World and New World lineages.

Pelicans frequent inland and coastal waters where they feed principally on fish, catching them at or near the water surface. They are gregarious birds, travelling in flocks, hunting cooperatively and breeding colonially. Four white-plumaged species tend to nest on the ground, and four brown or grey-plumaged species nest mainly in trees. Their populations have fallen through habitat destruction, disturbance and environmental pollution, and three species are of conservation concern.

The eight living pelican species were traditionally divided into two groups, one containing four ground-nesters with mainly white adult plumage (Australian, Dalmatian, great white, and American white pelicans), and one containing four grey or brown plumaged species which nest preferentially either in trees (pink-backed, spot-billed and brown pelicans), or on sea rocks (Peruvian pelican). The largely marine brown and Peruvian pelicans, formerly considered conspecific, are sometimes separated from the others.

Males are generally larger than females and have longer bills. The smallest species is the brown pelican, small individuals of which can be no more than 2.75 kg and 1.06 m long, with a wingspan of as little as 1.83 m. The largest is believed to be the Dalmatian, at up to 15 kg and 1.83 m in length, with a maximum wingspan of 3 m. The Australian pelican's bill may grow up to 0.5 m long in large males, the longest of any bird.

Pelicans have a network of subcutaneous air sacs under their skin situated across the ventral surface including the throat, breast and undersides of the wings, as well as having air sacs in their bones. The air sacs are connected to the airways of the respiratory system, and the pelican can keep its air sacs inflated by closing its glottis, but it is not clear how air sacs are inflated.

According to the IOC there are eight species in this family, which are:

Great 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

Family Links

Pelicans Pelecanidae

Family Account

Family account

Pelicans Pelecanidae

Family Account

Pelicans are a genus of large water birds that makes up the family Pelecanidae. They are characterised by a long beak and a large throat pouch used for catching prey and draining water from the scooped up contents before swallowing.

Pelicans Pelecanidae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Pelicans Pelecanidae

Cornell Family Account

American species

Pelicans Pelicanidae

IBC Family Account

Species information...

Species Links

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Cornell Species Account

One of the largest North American birds, the American White Pelican is majestic in the air. The birds soar with incredible steadiness on broad, white-and-black wings

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

IUCN Species Status

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Species Account

The American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is a large aquatic soaring bird from the order Pelecaniformes. It breeds in interior North America, moving south and to the coasts, as far as Central America and South America, in winter.

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife profile & Status

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

HBW Species Account

HBW species account

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

IBC Species Account

IBC species account

Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus

Species Account

The Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) is a large waterbird of the family Pelecanidae, widespread on the inland and coastal waters of Australia and New Guinea, also in Fiji, parts of Indonesia and as a vagrant in New Zealand. It is a predominantly white bird with black wings and a pink bill. It has been recorded as having the longest bill of any living bird. It mainly eats fish, but will also consume birds and scavenges for scraps.

Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife species profile & status

Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus

HBW Species Account

HBW species account

Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus

Species Account

The Australian Pelican's bill is 40 cm - 50 cm long and is larger in males than females. Pelicans have large wings and a wingspan of 2.3 m - 2.5 m.

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

IUCN Species Status

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

Cornell Species Account

The Brown Pelican is a comically elegant bird with an oversized bill, sinuous neck, and big, dark body.

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

Species Account

The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is a small pelican found in the Americas. It is one of the best known and most prominent birds found in the coastal areas of the southern and western United States. It is one of only three pelican species found in the Western Hemisphere and one of the only two that feeds by diving into the water.

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife species profile & status

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

HBW Species Account

HBW species account

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

IBC Species Account

IBC species account

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus

IUCN Species Status

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus

Species Account

The Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) is a massive member of the pelican family. It breeds from southeastern Europe to India and China in swamps and shallow lakes. The nest is a crude heap of vegetation.

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus

Webpage

BirdLife species profile & status

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus

HBW Species Account

HBW Species account

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus

IBC Species Account

IBC species account

Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus

IUCN Species Status

Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus

Species Account

The great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) also known as the eastern white pelican, rosy pelican or white pelican is a bird in the pelican family.[2] It breeds from southeastern Europe through Asia and in Africa in swamps and shallow lakes.

Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife species profile & status

Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus

IBC Species Account

IBC species account

Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus

HBW Species Account

HBW species account

Peruvian Pelican Pelecanus thagus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Peruvian Pelican Pelecanus thagus

Species Account

The Peruvian pelican (Pelecanus thagus) is a member of the pelican family. It lives on the west coast of South America, from Lobos de Tierra Island in Peru to Pupuya Islet in Chile.

Peruvian Pelican Pelecanus thagus

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife species profile & status

Peruvian Pelican Pelecanus thagus

Cornell Species Account

Cornell species account

Peruvian Pelican Pelecanus thagus

Species Account

Peruvian Pelican Pelecanus thagus

HBW Species Account

HBW species account

Peruvian Pelican Pelecanus thagus

IBC Species Account

IBC species account & image

Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens

IUCN Species Status

Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens

Species Account

The pink-backed pelican (Pelecanus rufescens) is a bird of the pelican family. It is a resident breeder in swamps and shallow lakes of Africa, southern Arabia, southern India and is apparently extirpated in Madagascar.

Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife species profile & status

Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens

HBW Species Account

HBW species account

Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens

IBC Species Account

Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis

Species Account

The Spotbilled Pelican (Pelecanus phillipensis), one of the largest birds of the Indian subcontinent, is in danger of vanishing forever from the face of the earth. This is the story of a group of dedicated people fighting to save one of the five remaining breeding colonies of this endangered bird, in a small village in Karnataka…

Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis

BirdLife Species Account

Full species account...

Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis

IBC Species Account

IBC species account

Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis

IUCN Species Status

Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis

HBW Species Account

HBW species account

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 8

Useful Reading

Pelicans in the Former USSR

Edited by AJ Crivelli, VG Krivenko and VG Vinogradov - Series: WETLANDS INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATION 27 152 pages, maps, tabs. Wetlands International 1994

ISBN: 0950573132

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Pelicans, Cormorants and their Relatives ? The Pelicaniformes

by J Bryan Nelson, illustrated by John Busby, Andrew Mackay and Bas Teunis OUP 2005
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 0198577273

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Seabirds

by Peter Harrison - Helm 1985

ISBN: 071363510X

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Seabirds ? a natural history

by Anthony J Gaston A&C Black 2004
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 0713665572

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Photographers & Artists

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Gallery

Image portfolio

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Gallery

Superb [group] image

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Gallery

Good in-flight image

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos Flight

Gallery

Images

Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus

Gallery

[Group] images

Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus

Gallery

Brilliant image

Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus

Gallery

Excellent head shot…

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis urinator

Gallery

Striking image

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

Gallery

Very good images from the Galapagos…

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

Gallery

Excellent images

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus

Gallery

Prize winning image…

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus

Gallery

Brilliant head shot

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus

Gallery

Image

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus

Gallery

[Group] image

Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus

Gallery

Portfolio of images…

Peruvian Pelican Pelecanus thagus

Gallery

Image gallery…

Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens

Gallery

Excellent images

Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens

Gallery

Fine image