Pelican, Dalmation

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Pelican, Dalmation

Pelecanus crispus

phylum: Chordata

class: Aves

order: Pelecaniformes

family: Pelecanidae

status: Lower risk, conservation dependent, IUCN

range: Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Mongolia, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Syria, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan

Description and biology

The Dalmation pelican is the largest member of the pelican family. An average adult measures 5.2 to 5.9 feet (1.6 to 1.8 meters) and weighs between 22 and 29 pounds (10 and 13 kilograms). Males are slightly larger than females. The bird has a wingspan of almost 11 feet (3.3 meters), and its long, straight bill measures between 14 and 17.5 inches (35.5 and 44.5 centimeters) in length.

This pelican has long, curly feathers on the nape of its neck. Its overall plumage (covering of feathers) is white-gray in color. Dark fingerlike tips mark the edges of its wings. Its legs and feet are gray-black. Its pouch, which is attached to the lower part of its bill, is yellow in color most of the year. During breeding season, it turns orange-red.

The Dalmation pelican is a good flier, although it must make a heavy running start in order to take off. Once in the air, however, the bird is fast and soars easily. On land, the pelican waddles and moves awkwardly because of its large, webbed feet. In water, these feet make the bird a strong swimmer. Hunting mainly by plunging its head under water, the Dalmation pelican feeds on a variety of fish.

Breeding season for the pelican takes place between February and April. The female, assisted by the male, builds a nest out of reed stalks, grass, and branches. She then lays a clutch (eggs produced at one time) of 1 to 4 eggs, and both male and female incubate (sit on or brood) them for 32 days. The nestlings fledge (develop flying feathers) about 80 days after they hatch, but remain dependent on their parents for 3 more weeks. Crows, magpies, and gulls prey on the pelican's eggs.

Habitat and current distribution

The Dalmation pelican breeds from Yugoslavia (Montenegro) to Mongolia and winters from Albania to China. Biologists (people who study living organisms) estimate that the bird's total world population is between 4,000 and 5,000 breeding pairs.

This species of pelican prefers to inhabit estuaries, lagoons, rivers, deltas, lakes, and coastal waters. Its nests are found in overgrown reeds and along seasides, lakes, deltas, and the lower reaches of rivers.

History and conservation measures

The Dalmation pelican was once found throughout Asia and Europe, numbering in the millions. In fact, in 1873 there were apparently millions of pelicans in the country of Romania alone. During the twentieth century, the bird's population drastically declined.

Great numbers of Dalmation pelicans have been killed by fishermen, who view the birds as competitors for fish. They have also been hunted for food and for the skin of their pouches. Much of their habitat has been lost, as wetlands have been cleared to create farmland. Electric power lines, installed to service a growing human population throughout the bird's range, have killed many flying pelicans.

Reserves and national parks in a number of areas protect colonies of Dalmation pelicans—particularly the largest Dalmation pelican colony at Lake Mikri Prespa in Greece—and the population has begun to recover. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) upgraded the bird's status from vulnerable to lower risk in 2000. But without the conservations and special protections that have been responsible for its new growth, the Dalmatian pelican would quickly become threatened again, so it is listed as conservation dependent.