The Dalmatian pelican, Pelecanus crispus, is the largest member of the pelican family who, with its three-metre wingspan, makes a great flyer. Its numbers are falling, thanks in part to pollution and the loss of wetlands.
Sauropsida, Pelecaniformes, Pelecanidae
3-m wingspan; 13 kg at the most
30 to 32 days, 1 to 3 eggs
coasts, continental water
Balkans, Ukraine, Romania, Asia, Egypt
Way of life
The Dalmatian pelican is a gregarious animal: it lives, travels, fishes and nests in non-hierarchical colonies.
It spends the winter in India or in Egypt. In March, after they return from their migration, the male brings the female various materials to help build a nest. They both take it in turns to incubate the eggs. Newly hatched chicks are naked. For the first two weeks they are fed fish mush by regurgitation. Later on, they collect it from their parents’ throats themselves. As soon as they start leaving their nests, they come together in a nursery.
The pelican’s fishing technique is astonishing: gathering in shallow water, several dozen pelicans will encircle a shoal of fish and drive it towards the shore. They all open their beaks at the same time and the prey gets caught in the gular sac! Some 12 litres of water are then expelled and the fish is swallowed head first! Only the Brown pelican, which lives along the American coast, captures its prey by diving.
The Dalmatian pelican is the largest of the 8 species of pelican. The expandable pouch, which hangs under its hooked beak, becomes red during the reproduction period.
Pelicans appear large but they actually weigh a lot less than you might imagine, thanks to their hollow bones, which make the skeleton lighter. They are excellent flyers, being able to fly more than 400 km per day by using rising warm air currents. Like geese, they fly in a “V”. This helps to conserve energy because each bird opens up the path for the next one, giving them an aerodynamic advantage. The role of being head of the formation is shared.
Seeing young pelicans rummaging around their parents’ throats and emerging with pieces of bloody fish, humans may have thought that the adult was giving its offspring its own flesh, and thus the pelican became a poetic symbol of parental love and sacrifice!
Pelican colonies, having never been valued by fishermen, have long been persecuted by them. New threats include pollution, pesticide poisoning, expansion of agriculture, draining wetlands and the harvesting of reeds, which forces pelicans to leave their nesting sites, and now many populations are in decline.