Australian Pelican Fact File

Pelecanus conspicillatus

Credit: Copyright. The Animal Facts.








Wild 25 years

Captive 25 years



Fish, Birds, Insects

Conservation Status


Least Concern

The Australian pelican has the largest bill of any bird on Earth. This large bill and its associated pouch is used to grab fish on which they can feed.

These animals are carnivores and while they primarily target fish they eat a wide variety of animal prey. This may include insects, crustaceans, reptiles and birds. Food is swallowed whole.

Breeding takes place in large colonies near the edge of the water.

Populations of the Australian pelican are considered stable but some declines have been seen due to changes to wetland habitats on which they rely.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.


What does the Australian Pelican look like?

The Australian Pelican is white with black tips on their wings and tail. Behind their head to half way down their neck they have a streak of grey. Unlike most water birds however they do not have a lot of waterproof oil on their feathers, this means that they can get cold and wet. Around the eye is an orbital ring of yellow skin.

They have blue-grey legs and feet. Their feet are webbed which helps them to move around.

The Australian Pelican usually weighs between 4 and 7kgs (8.8-15.4lbs). Their length is between 1.6 to 1.9m (5.2-6.2ft), with a wingspan of between 2.5 and 3.4 metres (8.2-11.1ft). The female Australian Pelican is a little bit smaller than the male.

They can hold between 9 and 13 litres (2.3-3.4 US gal) of water in their bill. Their bill and bill pouch are pink and they have the longest beak/bill of all the pelicans in the world.

During the breeding season the bill will become shades of pink, yellow and blue for a short period of time.


What does the Australian Pelican eat?

The Australian Pelican is a carnivore. Their diet mainly consists of fish (both native and introduced), however they also eat crustaceans, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians.

They typically catch fish by expanding their throat pouch, but once they have caught the fish they have to drain the pouch above the surface. This can take them about a minute to do and sometimes in that time other seabirds can come along and steal the fish.

They will eat the fish whole and jerk their head to get the fish to go down. Their bills have a small hook on the end and are serrated which helps them to hold on to the slippery fish.

Groups will work together to herd schools of fish to shallow water where it is easy for them to catch the fish.

Australian Pelican

Credit: Copyright. The Animal Facts.


Where can you find the Australian Pelican?

Australia is the native home of the Australian pelican and where the majority of the breeding locations are. This species is also found in Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Papu New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as a resident.

Occasional vagrants have been recorded in Fiji, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Palau and Vanuatu.


What kind of environment does the Australian Pelican live in?

Usually in Australia wherever you find water you will possibly be able to find Pelicans. This includes wetlands, lakes, coastlines, swamps, rivers and estuaries. The Pelicans live in large colonies and they will travel a long way to get to a place that has suitable water and breeding areas.

-- AD --


How does the Australian Pelican produce its young?

Australian Pelicans live and breed together in large colonies. They are able to breed at any time of the year but this is usually dependent on conditions like rainfall.

The Pelicans prepare a nest using items such as grasses, twigs and feathers which are laid down where they have scraped out the ground.

Multiple males may pursue the same female with the last one gaining mating rights with the female. During this they swing their bill while rippling the throat pouch. Males may fight with one another.

The female will then in the next week lay 1-3 eggs in the nest. These eggs are coloured white. The first chick to hatch is larger and often will kill its nest mates meaning the pair only raise one young.

Incubation takes 32 to 37 days, and both the male and female will sit on the eggs during this time. After hatching they spend the next 28 days in the nest.

When the young pelicans are born they are featherless and blind. They get their food by putting their bills down their parents bill and eating the regurgitated food. Usually after one month the chick can leave the nest and join the other baby chicks, they are then cared for by the adults for another couple of months until they learn to fly.

Sexual maturity is achieved at two to three years of age.


What does the Australian Pelican do with its day?

Australian pelicans fly mostly on thermal currents. They can fly at up to 3,000m (9,843ft) high.

Pelicans will live in large groups known as flocks. One was recorded with 1,900 individual members.

Australian Pelican

Credit: Copyright. The Animal Facts.

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the Australian Pelican?

Adult pelicans have very few predators. Chicks are preyed upon by dogs and Australian ravens.

This species is considered to have a stable population. Some fluctuations in their population have been attributed to changes in the wetlands they inhabit.

Individuals can become tangled in discarded rubbish such as fishing line.

They may also be affected by disturbances during their breeding activities.

Quick facts

The reason that the pelican can fly is because its skeleton is very light. It only accounts for an average of 10% of their whole body weight.

The Australian pelican has the largest bill of any bird on the planet.

Australian Pelican

Credit: Copyright. The Animal Facts.


BirdLife International. 2016. Pelecanus conspicillatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22697608A93623945. Downloaded on 05 December 2020.

PerthZooWebsite. 2021. Australian Pelican. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 December 2021]. 2021. Australian Pelican - Birds SA. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 December 2021].

The Australian Museum. 2021. Australian Pelican. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 December 2021]. 2021. Australian pelican. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 December 2021].

Most Popular Animal this Week

Credit: Under License

Redbubble Store.

Similar Species

Latest bird news stories

Magellanic penguin Chick at Potter Park Zoo
Potter Park Zoo Hatch Magellanic Penguin Chick
Secretary Bird Chick San Antonio Zoo
Incredibly Rare, Secretary Bird Chick Hatches at the San Antonio Zoo


Copyright The Animal Facts 2023

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap