Pelicans are water birds with a wide wing span (8 to 10 feet or 2.4 to 3 meters, depending on the species) belonging to the family Pelecanidae. These birds have large, distinctively shaped bodies with big feet. The most recognizable feature of pelicans is a long bill with a fleshy pouch underneath.
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These waterfowl are found worldwide from tropical to temperate regions, both inland and on the coast. However, they are not found in the open ocean or mountainous areas. Only eight species of pelicans currently exist, although they are prevalent throughout the fossil record.
These gregarious birds often form groups throughout their range.
A group of pelicans is usually called a squadron.
Additional collective nouns used to describe groups of pelicans include:
Most pelican species have light-colored feathers, except the brown pelican and the Peruvian pelican. They often glide just above the water’s surface or high above, drafting on thermals.
Where Are Pelicans Found?
Three of the pelican species are in the Americas. White pelicans are common inland North America. Brown pelicans are a coastal species that live from North America to northern South America. The Peruvian pelican is found along the Pacific Coast of South America.
White and brown pelicans have a designated status of Species of Least Concern. The Peruvian pelican population status is considered Near Threatened. The other five pelican species are patchily distributed throughout the rest of the world.
Pelicans with a Status of Least Concern include the Australian pelican, found in Australia and the surrounding countries, the great white pelican from the Meditteranean to south Asia and South Africa, and the pink-backed pelican in Africa and the Middle East.
The pelicans with a Status of Near Threatened include the Dalmatian pelican in Eastern Europe, India, and China and the spot-billed pelican from southern Asia to Indonesia. These pelican populations are at risk due to habitat destruction and pollution.
What is a Group of Baby Pelicans Called?
A group of baby pelicans does not have a specific collective noun.
This is likely because before the chicks fledge, only one or two of the babies survives, so they are rarely seen in a group. Pelicans are known for the siblicide that occurs within the nest.
Pelicans form large breeding colonies, sometimes containing hundreds of birds.
These groups of breeding colonies are called rookeries.
They prefer nesting in inaccessible locations, making it difficult for predators to find an easy meal of baby pelicans. Typical predators of baby pelicans include owls, eagles, gulls, and ravens.
Adult pelicans are proficient at fighting off predators. Their large bills are a formidable weapon that they use to stab at any intruders who threaten the nest. They use their large bodies aggressively to intimidate potential predators.
These pelican breeding colonies form near a large body of water, so they can easily forage for food. The breeding season usually begins when their food source, fish, becomes abundant, often in the late winter or early spring.
Males and females work together to construct the nest. Females lay two or three eggs, one at a time, every couple of days. The younger chicks typically do not survive to fledge but offer the breeding parents some insurance for a successful breeding season with at least one surviving chick.
The pelican parents take turns foraging for food while caring for the chicks. When the pelican eggs hatch, the strongest, oldest chick typically outcompetes the younger, weaker ones by taking more of the food. Chicks typically fledge within twelve weeks after hatching.
What is a Pair of Pelicans Called?
Male and female pelicans briefly pair up to build a nest and raise their young. These breeding pairs of pelicans do not have a specific name. Once the breeding season ends and the young have left the nest, the pair breaks up. They choose a different mate from the flock during the next breeding season.
Pelicans do exhibit sexual dimorphism, just like most other bird species. However, some pelican species, such as American White Pelicans, are nearly impossible to gender without a close examination.
Male pelicans usually have a longer bill than females. Research has shown that measuring the culmen, the part of the beak from the feathers to the base, consistently identifies the correct gender 97% of the time.
Do Pelicans Flock Together in Groups?
Pelicans typically live their entire lives inside of a flock. During the breeding season, they flock together in colonies. Outside of breeding colonies, pelicans flock together to hunt. These birds are known for their cooperative hunting skills.
When fish are abundant, pelicans work together to herd schooling fish into shallow water where it is easy for the birds to scoop them out of the water. This pack-hunting behavior provides pelicans with more successful hunts and more successful foraging than feeding alone.
During the breeding season, pelicans often forage at night, mostly by dipping their beak into the water as they glide over it, feeling for fish. Outside of the breeding season, pelicans usually forage during the day, using sight to find and catch fish.
Do Pelicans Migrate?
Many pelicans migrate seasonally, especially those that live in temperate climes. When the temperatures drop and food becomes scarce in the more extreme regions of their range, they fly towards tropical regions where food is more abundant.
When pelicans migrate, they travel in a specific formation during those long distances. People often observe pelicans flying in either a long, stretched-out line or a V-formation. These formations help birds fly long distances in an efficient way that conserves energy.
Populations of pelicans in North America once stood on the edge of extinction when the pesticide DDT was commonly used. Because the chemicals in DDT thinned the eggshells of the pelicans, when parents incubated the eggs with their feet, they crushed the fragile shells.
For years, the number of successful pelican nests declined. When DDT use was finally prohibited, the pelican population rebounded. Scientists now focus on maintaining those pelican populations by protecting the primary migratory routes used by these birds.