Pelecanus onocrotalus - The Great White Pelican

This is an enormous waterbird, mostly white with short legs and a massive, broad and very long azure blue bill which has a central red stripe and ends in a small, red hook. The mostly white bird has contrasting black flight feathers on the wings.

Did you know? The great white pelican fishes in the early morning and spends the reest of the day loafing, preening and bathing.

In the breeding season, the Great White Pelican takes on a pinkish flush and there is usually a yellow wash on the breast. There is an area of bare, pink skin around the eye and the enormous bill and pouch skin are yellow. The legs and feet are pink or yellowish and the feet are fully webbed. Juvenile birds are duller than adults and are greyish-brown with brown flight feathers on the wings.


Range mass: 9 to 15 gms.
Range length: 148 to 175 cm.
Range wingspan: 226 to 360 cm.
Bill length in males is 35 - 47 cm and in females 29 to 40 cm.


Found on large inland waters, and on the coast.


Widespread in South Africa and Africa except in the equatorial lowland forests in the West and in the very arid areas of eastern Somalia.

In South Africa, you can see them at the West Coast National Park (less than an hour from Cape Town), iSimangaliso Wetland Park in St Lucia, the Rietvlei Nature Reserve between Johannesburg and Pretoria, and False Bay Park near Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal.


Fish and some crustaceans. They do not dive for fish - they simply dip their heads underwater and scoop up fish in their bills.


Great White Pelicans are gregarious birds and large flocks often fish together encircling and trapping shoals of fish in shallow water where all the birds are easily able to scoop up fish in the skin pouch below the bill. They are excellent swimmers and also good fliers.


Great White Pelicans are generally silent birds except when during the breeding season when adults have low, hoarse display calls.


Pelicans usually nest in colonies situated on an island, or remote parts of a large pan. The nest is a pile of sticks placed on the ground. They lay two eggs and incubate the eggs for 29 to 36 days. The young fledge at 65 to 75 days.


Incubation lasts for 29 to 36 days.

Life Expectancy

51 years in the wild.




According to The great white pelican is not a well-monitored species with the exception of those in South Africa, particularly by the Avian Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town. The Western Cape of South Africa has seen the only great white pelican population increase in the past 30 years.

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Where to see Great White Pelican in their natural habitat?

Want to see great white pelican in their natural habitat? In South Africa, see pelicans in these nature reserves and parks...

Conservation Status
Great White Pelican
Kruger Park's Big 6 Birds
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