Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican

Spot-billed pelicans

Pelecanus crispus
Population size
11-13,4 Thou
Life Span
35-54 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) is the largest member of the pelican family, and perhaps the world's largest freshwater bird, although rivaled in weight and length by the largest swans. They are elegant soaring birds, with wingspans that rival that of the Great albatrosses, and their flocks fly in graceful synchrony.


Dalmatian pelicans have stunning silvery-white plumage during the breeding season, which contrasts with the orange-red rubbery pouch beneath its bill and the purple-to-yellow bare skin around its eyes. On their napes, the birds have a thick silver crest of feathers. Over the breeding season, their pouches fade to a yellow color, and in winter their plumage loses its sheen of silver and appears whitish or gray instead. The bare skin around their eyes can vary from yellow to purplish in color.




The range of Dalmatian pelicans ranges across much of Central Eurasia, from the Mediterranean in the West to the Taiwan Strait in the East, and from the Persian Gulf in the South to Siberia in the North. The birds usually migrate short distances with varying migration patterns during the year. Dalmatian pelicans are found in lakes, rivers, deltas, and estuaries. They usually return to a traditional breeding site year after year unless it becomes completely unsuitable. During the winter, Dalmatian pelicans usually stay on ice-free lakes in Europe or jheels (seasonal lakes) in India. They also visit, typically during winter, inshore areas along sheltered coasts for feeding.

Dalmatian Pelican habitat map

Climate zones

Dalmatian Pelican habitat map
Dalmatian Pelican
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Habits and Lifestyle

These pelicans are social birds and live and travel mainly in flocks. On land, they are not graceful, but they fly well and swim strongly. When flying, they rest their heads on their shoulders with their bills resting on their folded necks, and usually, they need to flap their wings only once or twice each second. They are diurnal birds, sleeping at night with heads twisted back, tucked into their feathers. All species of pelican are careful groomers, and a large part of an individual’s time is spent resting or preening. An individual will clean itself through splash bathing, preening, and rubbing its head over its body to help distribute waterproofing oil through its feathers. Dalmatian pelicans often hunt alone or in small groups. They normally swim along, placidly and slowly, until they quickly dunk their heads underwater and scoop the fish out, along with great masses of water. They are nomadic outside of the breeding season, traveling some distance in search of food. Dalmatian pelicans are often silent, as most pelicans tend to be, although they can be fairly vocal during the mating season, when they may engage in a wide range of guttural, deep vocalizations, including barks, hisses, and grunts.

Group name
Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Dalmatian pelicans are carnivorous (piscivorous) birds that eat mainly fish, and also amphibians, small reptiles, and aquatic crustaceans.

Mating Habits

varies geographically; March or April in the western part starts
31 days
60-90 days
chick, nestling
2-4 eggs

Dalmatian pelicans are serially monogamous and form pair bonds by year, not for life. At the start of a new breeding season, the courtship rituals begin again. Pairing occurs about a week after pelicans return to the breeding grounds. Dalmatian pelicans will use a range of different social signals during courtship, both visual and vocal. Once formed, the pair will begin to create their nest in an area with abundant fish and vegetation. Dalmatian pelicans nest in relatively small groups and sometimes may even nest alone. However, small colonies are usually formed, which regularly include upwards of 250 pairs (especially historically). Occasionally, Dalmatian pelicans may mix in with colonies of Great white pelicans. The nests will be defended by means of hissing, sighing, and beak-jabbing movements when another bird comes too close. Breeding starts in the west of the range in March and April, but it varies geographically. Two to four eggs are laid and are incubated by both parents for 31 days. Nestlings are helpless when born and for their first few weeks, their parents feed them. Fledging takes place between 60 to 90 days, with young being able to hunt independently at about 12 weeks. Chicks reach reproductive maturity when they are 30 months old or during the third year.


Population threats

Dalmatian pelicans were threatened in the past by wetland drainage, as well as being shot and persecuted by fishermen who regard them as competing with them for food. In only a few areas, fishermen continue this threat, and there is some disturbance from tourists. Habitat degradation from water pollution and wetland alteration is currently a serious threat, compounded by the fishing industry’s over-exploitation of fish stocks and hunting by livestock herders in Mongolia. Furthermore, the bill of this species has traditionally been used by Mongolian nomads for a pouch.

Population number

According to IUCN’s Red List, the Dalmatian pelican total population size is about 11,400-13,400 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Near Threatened (NT), and its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Dalmatian pelicans use their throat pouch not only to capture fish but also as a cooling mechanism. They open their beaks during hot weather, pulsating their pouch in order to speed up the rate of cooling by evaporation.
  • Mature Dalmatian pelicans are relatively quiet, calling only rarely. When they perceive a threat, both young and mature birds will become silent. They may use large wing movements and loud noises as scare tactics once the threat is visible.
  • The extendable sac of skin a pelican has at the base of its throat can hold as much as 3 gallons of water, which is several times more than in its belly.
  • Pelicans come from an ancient family of birds, the fossils dating back nearly 40 million years.
  • A gull will often sit on a pelican’s head, aiming to steal food when the pelican empties out the water in its bill by opening it slightly.

Coloring Pages


1. Dalmatian Pelican Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalmatian_pelican
2. Dalmatian Pelican on IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22697599/0
3. Xeno-canto bird call - https://xeno-canto.org/331137

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