What Do Pelicans Eat | Pelicans Diet & Feeding Behavior

Pelicans are the large water birds belong to the family of Pelecanidae. Much of the pelican’s diet consists of fish which can be as long as 30 cm. It’s only sometimes that pelicans rely on turtles, amphibians, crustaceans, and birds. They are most likely to prey on aquatic animals which they catch at the water surface.

What Do Pelicans Eat

  • White pelicans in particular will prey on fish in deep water. When fish are available in small schools pelicans will encircle these fish to make them go into the shallow. Moments later they will beat their wings on the water surface to scoop up the prey. The entire strategy takes only one minute during which the other birds are likely to join pelicans at lunch.
  • One way to catch big fish is that pelicans pick them with the tip of the bill in order to toss up in the air and then open the gullet to swallow.
  • Pelicans are often seen snatching prey from the mouth of other water birds.
  • The brown pelicans are thought to make dives into the water to catch menhaden or anchovies.

What Do Different Types of Pelicans Eat

The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

  • The American white pelicans are thought to catch prey while swimming but it never dives for the prey.
  • They are known to consume 4 pounds food a day. American pelican’s diet is primarily composed of fish such as Common carp, Sacramento perch, Lahotan Tui Chub, Rainbow trout, jackfish, and Yellow perch.
  • They supplement their diet with larval salamanders, amphibians, and crayfish.
  • American white pelicans will travel great distances in search of food.
  • Where fish are abundant these birds will gather around in large numbers to feed in groups. However pelicans do prey alone especially when the fish dives into the deep water.
what do pelicans eat
Pelicans after the duckling ©www.flickriver.com

The Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

  • The brown pelican predominantly feeds on crustaceans and amphibians. Fish however makes up the essential part of their diet.
  • About 90 – 95% of the pelican’s diet is composed of Menhaden.
  • In the nesting season, they will rely on anchovy more than any other animal.
  • Brown pelican’s diet includes pigfish, pinfish, herring, sheepshead, silversides, mullet, and minnows. They rarely eat prawns or crustaceans.
  • The adult brown pelican consumes 1.8 kg (4.0 lb) of food each day.

The Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)

  • Like other pelican species, great white pelicans also rely on fish. However unlike most other pelicans, they are thought to fly (in Cameroon) as far as 100 kilometers in search of food.
  • They eat up to 0.9 to 1.4 kg (2.0 to 3.1 lb) fish each day.
  • The largest concentration of these birds is likely to consume 62 million pounds of fish each year. In the Lake Rukwa, Tanzania great white pelicans gather around in as many numbers as 75,000 in total.
  • Great white pelicans are big enough to catch fish weighing up to 500–600 g (1.1–1.3 lb).
  • In Europe great white pelicans like to eat Common carp while in China they prey on mullet. In India these birds rely on Aphanius dispar for consumption.
  • Unlike most other pelican species, the great white pelican is an opportunistic feeder. They are often thought to eat bird’s eggs in South Africa.
  • They supplement their diet with tadpoles, turtles, and crustaceans.
  • In times of starvation, pelicans prey on ducklings or seagulls.

The Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)

  • Australian pelicans merely swim on the water surface while they dive down to catch prey. They drive the small schools of fish to shallow water and the operation takes place in groups.
  • A group of pelicans may consist of 1,900 birds that catch fish. They also prey alone.
  • The diet consists of some of the introduced species such as European carp, goldfish, and European perch.
  • Australian pelicans will probably eat Leiopotherapon unicolour which is a native species.
  • It is known to feed on aquatic crustaceans as well as shrimps and common yabby.
  • The Australian pelican preys on grey teal and its nestlings, adults and eggs.

The Pink-backed Pelican (Pelecanus rufescens)

Pink-backed pelicans primarily prey on fish that weighs up to 450 grams. Sometimes they take on amphibians, cichlids including Tilapia.

The Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus)

  • Dalmatian pelicans feed on fish which makes up more than 95% of their diet. The fish species include silurids, European perch, mullet, northern pike, common rudd, catfish, and eels.
  • They will need 1,200 g (2.6 lb) of fish each day. Pelicans either prey alone or in groups of 2 – 3 individuals.
  • Pelicans supplement their diet with beetles, crustaceans, water birds, eggs, nestlings, and worms.
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