common pelican

Pelecanus onocrotalus

Common name

common pelican


In Africa, its habitat includes lowlands and shallow, temperate alkaline or freshwater lakes.








29-36 days

Number of offspring




They feed almost exclusively on fish, in Africa they prefer cichlids, 90% are large fish, the remaining 10% is based on an abundant amount of small fish, and in the populations of southwest Africa they also feed on eggs and chicks of Cape cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis).


Up to 51 years in captivity.

Biology and behavior

This large seabird with a bright yellow beak has broad wings with white feathers and black tips. In addition, it has an interdigital membrane between the 4 fingers and an important gular pouch in the beak that they use to capture food. The extension of the wings also serves as a method of thermoregulation against excess heat.

The common pelican follows a curious hunting strategy, very rare in birds, as it is a cooperative method, 8 to 12 pelicans are arranged in a semicircle on the water, surround the fish and force them to approach the surface, at which point which the beak and gular pouch introduce at shallow depths, capturing them.

When it comes to breeding, it usually chooses remote islands or cliffs that are inaccessible to predators. The males perform spectacular displays as a mating ritual to attract females. The formation of the pair, the selection of the nesting area and the construction of the nest lasts a week. The nests are terrestrial.

They do not spend much time feeding, doing so early in the morning. The rest of the time they spend doing nothing in particular, grooming and bathing. For this they use sandbanks and small islands.

The northern populations are all migratory. Other populations are sedentary, dispersive or nomadic, moving around to look for suitable places to feed. The breeding season takes place in spring in temperate zones, in all months of the year in Africa and from February to April in Indian populations.


To defend itself from predators, the male pelican threatens intruders by spreading its wings, leaning and opening and closing its beak, which it also uses as a weapon. They also tend to regurgitate food, releasing and dispersing a nauseating odor that drives them away.

African savanna
Equatorial jungle
Madagascar Island