Pelecanidae – Pelicans & allies

Their beak pouch can easily hold up to 3 gallons (11 liters) of water

Pelicans are characterized by their long beaks and large throat pouches, which they use for catching prey and draining water from the scooped-up contents before swallowing. These throat pouches are not only an iconic trait but also a highly efficient adaptation for their fishing strategy.

These birds are found on all continents except Antarctica, inhabiting both coastal and inland waters such as lakes, rivers, and estuaries. They are well adapted to aquatic life, with webbed feet that make them powerful and graceful swimmers. Pelicans have an impressive wingspan, which facilitates their soaring flight, and they can often be seen flying in V-formation, a behavior that conserves energy and aids in communication among the group.

Social by nature, pelicans often hunt cooperatively. Groups of pelicans will work together to herd fish into shallow waters or to corral them, making them easier to catch. Once the fish are cornered, pelicans scoop them up in their beak pouches. This pouch can hold up to three times more than their stomach can, allowing them to catch a significant amount of fish in a single dive.

On land, pelicans have a few different ways of resting. They may sleep standing on both feet, often on a secure perch away from potential threats. Alternatively, they may lie down on their chests, sometimes with their heads resting on their shoulders and their beaks tucked to the side, a position that conserves body heat and protects vital areas.

The breeding season is a time when pelicans are particularly social. They nest in colonies, with both male and female pelicans contributing to nest building. The nests are typically made of sticks and are located on the ground, in trees, or in shrubs. Pelicans have a high level of parental care, with both parents incubating the eggs and feeding the young.