Pelicans, according to Avian Web, are water birds belonging to the family Pelecanidae. They inhabit warm regions on every continent except Antarctica. Pelicans are distinguished by the large, expandable pouches attached to the lower portion of their bills, which they use to catch and carry fish, amphibians, crustaceans and other prey. Pelicans also use their pouches for a lesser-known purpose; to fan and cool themselves in the hot sun.
The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is the smallest of all pelican species, ranging in weight from only six to 12 pounds. Five subspecies of brown pelicans inhabit the eastern coastline of North America down into northern Chile. Their colonies also can be found on the island of Saut d'Eau and at the mouth of the Amazon river. The eastern brown pelican has the distinction of being Louisiana's state bird.
The Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) is the largest known pelican species, growing as large as 33 pounds with an 11 1/2-foot wingspread. It is considered to be the world's heaviest flying species. The dalmatian pelican's habitat ranges from eastern Europe to China. They build ther nests near swamps, shallow lakes and lagoons.
American White Pelican
Also known as the rough-billed pelican, American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) live in large colonies in inland regions of North America, migrating south as far as Central America in the winter. Unlike some of its pelican counterparts, American white pelicans do not dive for food, but scoop it up while swimming. They prefer to hunt in groups, so that they might feed easier by chasing prey to one another.
The Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus), according to Avian Web, has the longest bill of any known bird in the world. In 1824, Dutch naturalist Coenraad Jacob Temminck first dubbed the long-billed bird "conspicillatus," which means "conspicuous" in Latin. Australian pelicans reside near expansive bodies of open water in Australia, New Zealand, Figi, New Guinea and Indonesia.
Great White Pelicans
Great white pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus), also known as eastern white or rosy pelicans, live in colonies, and inhabit the swamps and shallow lakes of Africa, eastern Europe and Asia. They hunt together in groups of six to eight, which enables them to surround their prey with a circle of large open pouches from which it cannot escape. Aggressive foragers, if they cannot locate regular food sources, they will eat seagulls and other small birds, drowning them first by holding their heads under water.
Pink-backed pelicans (Pelecanus rufescens) are native to Africa and southern Arabia, where they nest near swamps and shallow lakes. True to their name, the plumage of these small birds is gray and white, except for the pink feathers adorning their backs. Young pink-backed pelicans feed by dipping their tiny heads into the adults' mouths and retrieving partially digested fish.
Classified as "near-threatened," according to Avian Web, the spot-billed pelican, also known as the grey or Philippine pelican, is one of the most endangered pelican species in the world. Once widespread across Asia, their populations have declined steeply due to loss of habitat and human disturbance. They now generally are confined to the wetlands and large lakes of Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
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Yvette Sajem has been a professional writer since 1995. Her work includes greeting cards and two children's books. A lifelong animal advocate, she is active in animal rescue and transport, and is particularly partial to senior and special needs animals.