What Do Pelicans Eat?

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Pelicans are large water birds known for their “scooping” mouth pouch used to catch fish in the water. There are currently eight living pelican species present in many regions all around the world. Pelicans are rather famous, a side effect of their involvement in movies and pop culture Finding Nemo being chief among them. They are also the national bird of Romania and three Caribbean countries, as well as the mascot for sports teams worldwide. Let’s take a look at these fascinating birds and learn: what do pelicans eat?

What do pelicans eat?

 

Pelicans eat mostly fish but will occasionally eat amphibians, insects, birds, and small mammals.

A pelican’s diet is entirely meat, firmly placing it as a carnivore and predator in whatever ecological niche they happen to live. As large seabirds, pelicans primarily feed on fish and gather most of their caloric needs from or near the ocean. Depending on the species, pelicans will take fish as small as a few inches, all the way up to a few feet in length.

Pink-backed pelicans, for example, are known to eat fish up to 1 lb, while the larger great white pelican is able to take fish up to a whopping 4.2 lbs. A pelican’s typical fish selection primarily depends on its location, but common fish across the world are menhaden, herring, sheepshead, pigfish, minnows, silversides, and mullet. Pelicans that live on the Pacific coast often rely on anchovies and sardines to make up the bulk of their fish diet.

Aside from fish, pelicans are known to eat amphibians (frogs and salamanders), turtles, crustaceans (shrimp and crayfish), insects, and other birds. Interestingly, birds are a large food source for many pelican species. Great white pelicans, for example, have been recorded swelling pigeons in various parks in London. Additionally, Australian, brown, and Peruvian pelicans regularly eat young birds in their respective regions.

A complete list of foods pelicans eat

Here is a complete list of foods that pelicans eat:

anchovies
sardines
herring
sheepshead
pigfish
mullet
minnows
menhaden
crabs
lizards
frogs
turtles
birds
How do pelicans hunt?

 

Pelicans are amazing hunters, catching prey significantly larger than seems possible for them. For some species, the required 4 lbs of fish a day means some unique ways to hunt. Let’s look through them now.

Group feeding

Pelicans can fish in group formations or totally alone. In groups, the pelicans will find shallow-water schools of fish and round them up into a small area. Beating their wings on the surface of the water, they drive them further towards the shore, where they can be picked off easily. Once they have been rounded up, they take turns swooping down and grabbing fish with their beaks. Occasionally, certain species of pelicans are known to work with other species of birds to perform the same tactics.

Solitary feeding

When feeding solitarily, they will spot fish in the water and swoop down to grab them. Larger fish need to be grabbed with the tips of their bills, allowing them to flip their catch into the air, catching it in their pouch. Some species of pelican will dive from 70 feet up, plunging into the water to scoop fish up in their pouch. Once they get back to the surface, they drain the pouch by tipping their head, allowing them to swallow their catch whole.

While some prey is caught from diving into the water, most of it is done from the surface of the water. The swimming pelican simply reaches its mouth into the water, scoops up fish in its pouch, and proceeds to drain it as necessary.

Many pelicans have to be wary of other small seabirds who regularly try to steal from the larger pelicans. Often, they will sit on a pelican’s head while it’s draining water from its pouch and peck it. When the pelican turns to respond, they swoop around and grab a small fish. Gulls often perform this maneuver.

Do pelicans store things in their pouch?

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