Pelicans are huge, heavy-bodied, short-tailed water birds with a long neck, large head, and enormous bill with a gular pouch that gives pelicans their distinctive appearance. The full extent of the gular pouch is usually evident when swallowing. Except for the Brown Pelican, the plumage is mainly white with areas of gray, brown, and black. They walk slowly on short, thick legs.
The Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus), also known as the eastern white pelican, rosy pelican, or white pelican, develops a pinkish flush during the breeding season. The orbital skin is pink, the bill is pink and yellow, and the pouch is also yellow. Juveniles are dark-brown and whiten progressively with age. The sexes are similar, with slight seasonal variation in coloration.
The Great White Pelican is one of few bird species that engage in relatively rare behavior – true co-operative feeding where groups will spread out and “herd” fish toward the bank where they are captured. They do not seem to mind that their co-operative hunting often reduces efficiency (lower density of fish with too many bills to fill). Highly sociable, pelicans nest in large colonies on islands or in bushes or trees.
Pelicans feed on fish and sometimes crustaceans, scooped up in gular pouch while head-dipping or up-ending.
Their wings are both broad and long, adapted to soaring and gliding flight. Pelicans fly in V-formation, in orderly lines or single file, drawing their heads back on their shoulders. They often travel one behind the other with the leader beating wings or gliding, the rest doing likewise, alternating bouts of flapping with gliding to save energy.
- Mark Beaman, Steve Madge – The Handbook Of Bird Identification: For Europe And The Western Palearctic
- Bruce Campbell, Elizabeth Lack – A Dictionary of Birds
- Trevor Carnaby – Beat About The Bush: Birds