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Great White Pelican Fact File

Pelecanus onocrotalus

Credit: Public Domain

Weight

7-10kg

(15.4-22lbs)

Length

145-175cm

(57-69in)

Lifespan

Wild 36 years

Captive 36 years

Diet

Carnivore

Fish

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

The great white pelican is the second largest of species based on average size after the Dalmatian pelican.

These birds live in flocks of up to 40,000 birds across parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. Some populations are migratory and will breed in Europe before returning to Africa to spend the winter.

They are carnivores which will use the large sac under their beak to scoop fish from the water.

In parts of their range this species is threatened by habitat loss and pollution, hunting and collisions with man-made structures.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.

Appearance

What does the Great White Pelican look like?

As their name suggests these birds are primarily covered by white feathers except for the flight feathers which are black. There is a slight yellowish tinge to the feathers on the breast during the breeding season.

Around the eye is a circle of bare skin. This is colored pinkish in males and orange in the females.

Protruding from the face is the large bill which is used to catch food. The upper portion is a dark color while the pouch beneath is colored yellow.

Their feet are colored yellow.

Males are significantly larger than females. They average 10kg (22lbs) compared to 7kg (15.4lbs) for the females. The beak of the female is also shorter and straighter.

An average male will measure 175cm (69in) long compared to 145cm (57in) long for the females. They have a wingspan of 2.3-3.6m (7.5-12ft) across.

Adaptations

How does the Great White Pelican survive in its habitat?


Their beak is perfectly adapted for gathering fish. They will scoop up a beak full of water and then tit their head back allowing the water to spill out while the fish remain inside.

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Diet

What does the Great White Pelican eat?

Great white pelicans are carnivores. The main component in their diet is fish. Small birds and invertebrates may also be consumed.

These birds will feed in a group. They find a school of fish and then collectively dip their beaks in the water to try and grab a fish. By hunting in a group at least some will get a fish.

Each day an individual will consume 1.2kg (2.6lbs) of fish.

Learn more about the Great White Pelican in this video from GoPro on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the Great White Pelican?

The great white pelican has a wide range taking in parts of Africa, Europe and Asia. Here they occur in the following countries – Afghanistan; Albania; Algeria; Angola; Armenia; Austria; Azerbaijan; Bahrain;Bangladesh; BelarusBenin; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Botswana; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; Côte d'Ivoire; Croatia; Cyprus; Czechia; Denmark; Djibouti; Egypt; Eritrea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Finland; France; Gabon; Gambia; Georgia; Ghana; Greece; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; India; Iraq; Islamic Republic of Iran; Israel; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Kuwait; Kyrgyzstan; Latvia; Lebanon; Libya; Malawi; Maldives; Mali; Malta; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Myanmar; Namibia; Netherlands; Niger; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Oman; Pakistan; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Slovenia; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Spain; Sri Lanka; State of Palestine; Sudan; Switzerland; Syrian Arab Republic The Democratic Republic of the Congo; Togo; Tunisia; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Uganda; UkraineUnited Arab Emirates; United Republic of Tanzania; Uzbekistan; Western Sahara; Yemen; Zambia and Zimbabwe.


They are considered extinct in Hungary and may also be extinct in Montenegro and Serbia.

Habitat

Where can the Great White Pelican survive?

This species is found along waterbodies such as lagoons, marshes, rivers and their deltas, lakes and estuaries. These may contain freshwater, brackish or saline water.

To nest they require an area secured vegetation such as reeds along the banks.

Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)

Credit: Public Domain

Reproduction

How does the Great White Pelican produce its young?

Breeding season is variable across their range. In Africa it is observed year round while in temperate areas it is concentrated during spring.

The nest of this species may be a platform of sticks or a shallow scrape in the ground. Nest sites may include a number of pelican species and include multiple of each of each species.

Females will deposit between two and four eggs in their nest. These are incubated for between 29 and 36 days. At hatching the young are covered by blackish-brown down feathers.

Fledging takes place at 65 to 75 days old.

On average 64% of chicks will make it to adulthood.

Sexual maturity is reached between 3 and 4 years old.

Behavior

What does the Great White Pelican do during its day?

These birds live in large groups known as flocks. These may include between 200 and 40,000 birds. Occasionally they will form mixed flocks with other species such as the Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus).

While most often associated with water these birds are able fliers and will take to the sky flying in flocks in a V-formation.

In the north of their range this species if fully migratory. These birds will use a range of stopover sites during these transits. Migratory birds will breed in Europe and spend winter in Africa.

Fishing is mainly undertaken at dawn or dusk.

Males are protective of their habitat and will gape or clap their beak to defend it.

Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What stops the Great White Pelican from surviving and thriving?

The global population of the great white pelican is estimated to include between 265,000 and 295,000 individuals. Due to their wide range it is difficult to list a trend for this species. In Europe they are increasing while in other areas they are either decreasing or stable.

A range of threats are faced by this species. These include the draining of their wetland habitat along with pollution of these areas. DDT is widely used across Africa to stop the spread of malaria but makes the eggs of this species thin.

In some areas they are hunted for food, sport or due to a perception that they are a pest of farmed fish. They also may become bycatch in fishing equipment.

Some are killed through collisions with electrical wires and wind turbines.

An increase in tourism activities in some areas has seen nesting sites abandoned.

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Quick facts

They are also known as the eastern white pelican, rosy pelican or white pelican.

This species was first described for modern science in 1758.

Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)

Credit: Public Domain

References

Livingdesert.org. 2022. Wonderfully Wild | The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. [online] Available at: <https://www.livingdesert.org/animals/great-white-pelican/> [Accessed 18 January 2022].

Wild Life in Safari |. 2022. White Pelican | African Birds | Pelican | Wildlife Safari.info. | Wild Life in Safari. [online] Available at: <https://wildlifesafari.info/white_pelican.htm> [Accessed 18 January 2022].

Exoticheritagegroup.com. 2022. Great White Pelican. [online] Available at: <https://www.exoticheritagegroup.com/blog/page13.html?utm_source=social&utm_medium=medium&utm_campaign=daily> [Accessed 18 January 2022].

Pairi Daiza. 2022. Great white pelican. [online] Available at: <https://www.pairidaiza.eu/en/activities/great-white-pelican> [Accessed 18 January 2022].

Fawkes, R. 2001. "Pelecanus onocrotalus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed January 18, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Pelecanus_onocrotalus/

FOTA Wildlife Park. 2022. GREAT WHITE PELICAN. [online] Available at: <https://www.fotawildlife.ie/animals-plants/great-white-pelican/> [Accessed 18 January 2022].

BirdLife International. 2021. Pelecanus onocrotalusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T22697590A177120498. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-3.RLTS.T22697590A177120498.en. Accessed on 18 January 2022.

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