- Average life span in the wild:
- 10 to 25 years or more
- Body, 5.8 ft (1.8 m); wingspan, 10 ft (3 m)
- 30 lbs (13 kg)
- Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man
Please add a "relative" entry to your dictionary.
There are more than half a dozen species of pelicans, but all of them have the famous throat pouch for which the birds are best known. These large birds use their elastic pouches to catch fish—though different species use it in different ways.
Many pelicans fish by swimming in cooperative groups. They may form a line or a "U" shape and drive fish into shallow water by beating their wings on the surface. When fish congregate in the shallows, the pelicans simply scoop them up. The brown pelican, on the other hand, dives on fish (usually a type of herring called menhaden) from above and snares them in its bill. Pelicans do not store fish in their pouch, but simply use it to catch them and then tip it back to drain out water and swallow the fish immediately. The American white pelican can hold some 3 gallons (11 1/2 liters) of water in its bill. Young pelicans feed by sticking their bills into their parents' throats to retrieve food.
Pelicans are found on many of the world's coastlines and also along lakes and rivers. They are social birds and typically travel in flocks, often strung out in a line. They also breed in groups called colonies, which typically gather on islands.
In North America, the brown pelican is endangered, but populations are recovering to some extent. The sea birds were devastated by chemical pesticides, such as DDT, which damaged the eggs of pelicans and many other species.
See a whooping crane, a Javan rhinoceros hornbill, and more stunning birds photographed by Joel Sartore.
Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.
Explore the pelican’s prodigious pouch. Find out how these famous fishers bring home the catch of the day.
Get right up close to 12 colorful new bird galleries, featuring photos from My Shot members and classic art from the NG archives.