Pelecaniformes – Pelicans, herons & ibises

Medium and large waterbirds found worldwide, most have a bare throat patch

An order of waterbirds known for their aquatic lifestyles and distinctive anatomical features that encompasses two distinct suborders: Ardei and Pelecani. The suborder Ardei includes a diverse array of species, such as egrets, herons, bitterns, ibises, and spoonbills, each exhibiting unique adaptations for life in wetland habitats. On the other hand, the suborder Pelecani comprises pelicans, shoebills, and the hamerkop, showcasing a different set of specialized traits suited to their respective ecological niches.

One of the most notable characteristics of birds in the order Pelecaniformes is their medium to large size, well-suited for their aquatic lifestyle. Their feet are equipped with a specialized toe arrangement, with the hallux (first toe) pointing forward and webbed with the other three toes, facilitating efficient swimming and diving. Additionally, many species possess a distinctive patch of bare skin on their throat, known as the gular patch, which plays a role in courtship displays and thermoregulation.

These waterbirds are primarily piscivorous, meaning they primarily feed on fish, but they also consume a wide variety of other aquatic prey, including reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic insects. Their diverse diet reflects their adaptability to a range of aquatic environments, from freshwater rivers and lakes to coastal estuaries and marshlands.

In terms of reproduction, most species of Pelecaniformes nest in densely packed colonies, where they lay eggs and raise their young. The chicks are altricial, meaning they are born naked and helpless, relying entirely on their parents for food and protection until they are able to fend for themselves.

Unfortunately, Pelecaniformes have faced various threats from human activities, including disturbances to their nesting colonies and persecution by fishermen who mistakenly view them as competitors for fish.