This pelican, known affectionately as Percy, was resident on the main fishing harbour of Lesvos and a friend to all the fisherman who worked there. He’s mate had been shot several years ago so the fisherman took pity on him and fed him scraps of their unwanted fish. Being a tame bird, he was easy to photograph close-up but occasionally did try to eat the lens!

The great white pelican is one of the largest flying birds in the world, with a wingspan of nearly three metres. They are found in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. The ones in Africa stay there all year, but the others fly south (migrate) to Africa in the winter because they do not like cold weather.

Although rather clumsy on land, Great white pelicans are superb in the air and are able to fly for a whole day and night without stopping, covering a distance of about 300 miles. They spend a great deal of their time in the water. They usually choose large, freshwater lakes that have reed beds or small islands that can be used as safe places to nest.

They feed mainly on fish, though they sometimes eat crustaceans (shrimp-like creatures) and have even been known to eat ducklings. They usually fish in shallow water. Their very special way of fishing happens by using their pouch to scoop up several litres of water with fish swimming in it. They then lift their head and squeeze their pouch to get rid of the water before swallowing the fish.

They often use teamwork when feeding: a group of 8-12 birds swim into a horseshoe shape to surround the fish, then, all together, they plunge in their beaks and scoop them out.

Young pelicans could be eaten by Egyptian vultures and eagles and in some areas by jackals, hyenas and lions. Adults are sometimes eaten by crocodiles.

Pelicans mate for life and often breed in large colonies of 40,000 to 50,000 pairs. Nests are usually just a rough pile of twigs on the ground, sometimes not even that. Two eggs are laid, which both parents keep warm by taking turns to rest them on their feet. After 29-36 days the eggs hatch into bald, helpless chicks which the parents feed from a special liquid that runs down their beaks. The chicks are able to fly when they are 10 - 12 weeks old, but will not be ready to breed themselves until they are aged 3-4.

Other interesting facts
• Males are larger than females and also have larger beaks.
• The little hook on the end of the beak is used for preening (combing) the feathers to keep them in perfect condition for flying. Special oil keeps them waterproof.
• Pelicans are surprisingly light for their size (5 - 9 kg) because of air spaces in the bones and under the skin. This helps with flying.
• Although their lifespan in the wild is 15 -20 years, a pelican in captivity once lived to be 60 years old!

Great White Pelican Preening


Image Library
Client Login