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Pelicans constitute 7 or 8 species in the Pelecanidae family distinguished by their large throats. They once were placed in the same family as cormorants, frigates, gannets, and darters, but since bird science has matured, the bird's genetic history has dictated it, more accurately, belongs in its only family They inhabit land near the water of lakes, rivers, and seas around the world. Sometimes clumsy land birds, Pelicans are actually impressive flyers. They travel in small flocks, usually beating their wings in unison with each other. Pelicans are among the largest birds known today, reaching lengths of 70 inches with a wingspan of 10 feet, and weighing around 30 pounds.
Types of Pelicans
- Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
- Pink-backed Pelican (Pelecanus rufescens)
Not surprisingly, Pelicans eat mainly fish from the waters they live near. They catch them by using the aforementioned large throat that acts as a net. They swallow the fish whole, immediately, unlike the popular belief that the Pelican stores fish in their bill;“A pelican's bill stores more than its bellican”. Food is only stored for a short while, if at all, to feed their young. The brilliant fisherman they are, Pelicans swim in formation together to drive schools of fish into shallow waters where they can easily be caught. Only one species of Pelican, the Brown Pelican, captures fish otherwise, by diving from the air and into the water.
Both male and female Pelicans look similarly, with males being only slightly larger. Pelicans typically breed in colonies, nearly completely in sync with each other; meaning all pairs in the colony are in the same stage of reproduction at the same time. The migratory Pelicans breed in colonies on islands. Once mated, Pelicans lay between 1-4 blue/white eggs in a nest made of sticks, and incubate them for nearly a month before they hatch. Once hatched, the adult Pelicans feed their young regurgitated food. Their young get the food from within the parent's gullet, or throat. Pelicans aren't fully mature until age 3 or 4 years old.
Pelicans In Captivity
Pelicans can be found at the San Diego Zoo, where many species are seriously studied and documented. Different species of Pelis live in various exhibits in the park, including one island that only keepers can access by boat. At Safari Park, Pelicans have been one of their biggest success stories. The exhibit has put together the most comprehensive and productive flock of Pelicans and is the only accredited organization with 3 great Pelican varieties the Great White Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican, and Pink-Backed Pelicans.
Species and Rarity
The most well-known Pelicans are White Pelicans, the kind you see in children's picture books and movies. Two White Pelicans are found worldwide, the North American White Pelican and the European White Pelican. Brown Pelicans are smaller and were quite endangered throughout its history on North American coasts. Between 1970 and 2009 they were listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due to the use of pesticides, specifically one called DDT. DDT was one of the first widespread pesticides introduced and advertised during World War II as a miracle chemical to kill annoying pests, big and small. DDT successfully poisoned a wealth of Brown Pelicans even though they had bred in enormous colonies at the time. It wasn't until DDT was banned that the population made its comeback. Pelicans have adapted and survived for around 40 million years, as long as their fossils date back, but they still face endangerment concerns today. Oil spills and water contamination is one large threat made to the bird, as well as injuries and death caused by fisherman's hooks and operations. Most operations cut and release a line that's caught a Pelican, rather than bringing it in to safely remove it. All Pelican species' futures are unclear. Will they thrive another 40 million years?