Pelicans are very distinct waterbirds. They’re easy to recognize thanks to their large bills and special pouches. There are eight species of pelicans in the world. They can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica.
These birds are amongst the largest flying birds in the world. However, they start off small. While the young are decently sized, they’re nothing compared to an adult pelican’s size. So you may wonder, “how big are baby pelicans?” and “what do they look like?”
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about baby pelicans!
Baby Pelicans have a variety of names based on their age. The most common terms are chicks and nestlings.
When they first hatch, they’re called hatchlings. Then, they’re called chickens until their flight feathers have grown out. Once they have their flight feathers, they’re then juveniles.
How many eggs a pelican lays depends on their species:
- For example, Brown Pelicans lay 3 eggs each season.
- American White Pelicans lay 2 eggs each season.
- Great White Pelicans lay 2 eggs each season.
- Peruvian Pelicans lay 2 to 3 eggs each season.
- Australian Pelicans lay 1 to 3 eggs each season.
- Finally, Spot-billed Pelicans lay 3 eggs every season.
Unfortunately, not all pelican eggs will survive. For example, of the 2 eggs that American White Pelicans lay, usually only 1 chick survives.
Pelicans are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. Because of this, species of pelicans, depending on where they live, lay their eggs at different times. Here are all of the pelican species and what time of year they lay eggs:
- Brown Pelican: December to September
- American White Pelican: March to May
- Great White Pelican: Any month
- Peruvian Pelican: October to February
- Pink-backed Pelican: Any month
- Australian Pelican: Any month
- Dalmatian Pelican: March to April
- Spot-billed Pelican: October to November
It takes about a month for pelicans to hatch. However, the incubation period may take 28 to 36 days (an average of 30 days), depending on the climate and the species.
We don’t see baby pelicans because of how helpless they are when they’re first born. They don’t have any feathers and are very small, making them helpless. Because of this, they stay in the nest.
They cannot fly for the first couple of weeks and rely on their parents to feed them. They stay in the nest until they’re around a month and a half old. Once they reach that age, they’re able to fly, making them juveniles instead of babies. At this time, they look very similar to adults and will join their parents on their trips for food.
Additionally, pelicans lay their eggs in remote areas like islands in colonies. These locations have to have easy access to water and food for the chicks and be safe from predators. Because these birds use such remote areas, we don’t see baby pelicans.
As stated previously, pelicans lay their eggs in remote areas like islands in colonies. Since baby pelicans live in the nest until they fledge, these remote locations are where they live until they’re about 6 weeks old.
Once they reach 6 weeks old, they can fly and will join their parents on their trips for food.
It takes several months for baby pelicans to reach independence. However, they grow quickly due to their diet of mainly fish and will start to leave the nest after about 2 to 4 weeks.
However, these young birds don’t go far. They gather in groups with other juvenile pelicans called pods or crèches. At this stage of their lives, their parents continue to feed them.
Most baby pelicans become completely independent at around 3 months old. However, this can vary depending on the species. For example, Dalmatian Pelicans can take up to 105 days, while Great White Pelicans reach independence in 65 days.
Baby pelicans are completely helpless when they first hatch. Their naked, and their eyes will either be slightly open or closed. They have difficulty holding up their big heads and can’t move around a lot initially.
When baby pelicans hatch, they have the unique pouch and large bill. However, the bill is proportionately a lot shorter than an adult’s. Their bill has a hard egg tooth on the tip at this stage. This helps them break through their eggs shell.
The color of a baby pelican’s skin depends on its species. For example, Brown Pelican hatchlings are pink in color before they grow their first set of feathers, while American White Pelican hatchlings are orange.
As these birds get older, most will develop soft down feathers that give them a snowy white covering. However, Great White Pelican babies are different because they have chocolate brown down feathers. This makes them distinctive in comparison to their parents.
Baby pelicans hatch at a reasonably large size. This is because they come from big eggs.
When they hatch, the majority of baby pelicans weigh around 1 to 6 ounces which is 30 g to 180 g. However, they’ll grow very large by the time they leave the nest. A hatchling’s weight depends on the species:
American White Pelicans weigh 2.8 ounces or 80 g,
Brown Pelicans weigh around 1.8 ounces or 50g,
Dalmatian Pelicans weigh around 5.3 ounces or 150 g when they’re born.
When baby pelicans become juveniles, Brown Pelican juveniles can reach 45-60 centimeters, White Pelican juveniles can reach 55-60 centimeters, and Dalmatian Pelican juveniles can reach 95-100 centimeters in length when they’re fledged.
This growth is impressive when you consider that adult birds can have wingspans of 80-120 inches (2-3 m) and measure over 60 inches (1.5 m) long!
Pelicans are opportunistic feeders, so they eat various things like crustaceans, amphibians, and sometimes other birds. However, they mainly eat fish.
Freshwater pelican species will provide fish like minnows and trout to their babies, while marine pelican species feed their babies small saltwater fish like anchovies, sardines, and mullets.
It’s pretty awkward for parents to feed their babies because of their large bills. So at first, the parents will regurgitate fish that has been partially digested onto the floor of the nest so the babies can feed.
They do this because the regurgitated fish is too big for the hatchlings to swallow whole. By placing it on the floor of the nest, the young birds can pick at it because the food is already softened.
As the chicks get older, they’ll start to take fish right out of their parent’s mouths. Finally, at about 1 month old, the young will feed right out of their parent’s pouches. This is a sight to see; a hungry chick will place a good amount of its body into its parent’s mouth!
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2. Morris, R. D., & Ewins, P. J. (1983). Egg size and breeding success in the American white pelican. The Condor, 85(3), 332-337
3. Ogden, J. C., & Davis, S. M. (1974). Pelican predation on the Florida Gulf coast. The Auk, 91(2), 279-291
4. Anderson, M., & Andriese, T. (2012). Growth and development of captive reared brown pelican chicks (Pelecanus occidentalis). Waterbirds, 35(3), 437-443