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What is a Dalmatian Pelican?

By Christine Hudson
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Dalmatian Pelican, Pelecanus crispus, is the largest member of the pelican bird family. On average, a mature Dalmatian Pelican has a body 65 to 75 inches (about 170 to 190 cm) long with a 10 foot (about 3 m) wingspan and weighs 23 to 33 pounds (about 10.5 to 15 kg). Sometimes called the curly-headed pelican for its curly nape feathers, the Dalmatian Pelican also differs from the White Pelican with its gray legs and light-gray plumage.

This pelican is native to southeast Europe, India, and China. Dalmatian Pelicans make nests out of piled vegetation in shallow lakes, deltas, and swamps. Most of these birds are territorial and choose areas with little to no human disturbance. They also generally choose to live in small flocks of five or less.

As with other pelicans, the Dalmatian Pelican feeds on fish and other small birds by scooping them into their large bills. It is less likely to fish in large groups, and instead tends to feed alone or in pairs. The diet of any Dalmatian Pelicans depends on its particular location but usually consists of carp, rudd, and even eels. They sometimes eat other wetland birds smaller than themselves as well, but tend to prefer fish.

At the end of the 20th century, the Dalmatian Pelican was removed from vulnerable status and downgraded to the status of conservation dependent. Due to a reduction in its wetland habitat and hunting, the population of the Dalmatian Pelican declined rapidly during the century. Conservation measures were then adopted in Europe around 1994, and showed enough positive results to begin growing the population again. Like all wetland creatures, the Dalmatian Pelican is susceptible to human interference. Blamed for declines in fishing and hunted for prized feathers and bill, the pelican’s numbers even dwindled to below 1,000 at one time.

It usually takes about three to four years for the Dalmatian Pelican to reach sexual maturity, which can cause population growth to be much slower than with other wetland creatures. During the mating season, the plumage and nape feathers turn to a lighter gray color and contrast with a red-orange pouch beneath the bill that is used to attract mates. The mating season typically runs from mid-January to late July, thereby giving the species ample time for repopulation. European conservationists were able to aid the natural process by setting up preservations, introducing zoo-raised pelicans into their natural habitat, and closely monitoring their overall health and numbers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Dalmatian Pelican?

The Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) is one of the largest freshwater bird species, distinguished by its massive bill and large throat pouch. It has silvery-white plumage with curly feathers on its nape, giving it a distinctive appearance. These birds are found in lakes, rivers, and deltas in Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa.

How big do Dalmatian Pelicans get?

Dalmatian Pelicans are among the world's heaviest flying bird species, with an impressive wingspan ranging from 2.7 to 3.2 meters. They typically weigh between 10 to 15 kilograms. Their size is a remarkable adaptation for their aquatic lifestyle, enabling them to glide effortlessly over water surfaces in search of food.

What do Dalmatian Pelicans eat?

Dalmatian Pelicans primarily feed on fish, which they catch with their expansive bill and pouch. They often work in groups to herd fish into shallow waters, making them easier to scoop up. Their diet can include a variety of fish species, depending on their habitat and availability of prey.

Are Dalmatian Pelicans endangered?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Dalmatian Pelican is currently listed as Near Threatened. Habitat destruction, water pollution, and human disturbance are significant threats to their populations. Conservation efforts are crucial to ensure the survival of this species.

Where can Dalmatian Pelicans be found?

Dalmatian Pelicans are migratory birds with a geographic range that spans from southeastern Europe to Russia and China. In winter, they migrate to ice-free waters in the Mediterranean, the Caspian Sea, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent. They prefer shallow, warm waters where they can find ample food.

How do Dalmatian Pelicans breed and raise their young?

Dalmatian Pelicans breed in colonies on secluded islands or dense vegetation in wetlands. They build large nests on the ground where females lay up to four eggs. Both parents share incubation duties for about a month. After hatching, chicks are cared for by both parents until they fledge at around three months old.

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