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Australian Pelican, Pelecanus conspicillatus

Description

There are seven species of pelicans in the world, just one of which occurs in Australia.

The Australian Pelican is a large bird 1.5 to 1.8 m long with a wingspan of 2.3 to 2.5 m. Males are slightly larger than females. It is white with black along the primaries of the wings. The pale, pinkish bill is enormous (40-50 cm) - the largest bill of any bird. The large bill pouch is also a distinctive feature - it can hold up to 13 litres of water.

Habitat

Pelicans are widespread on freshwater, estuarine and marine wetlands and waterways including lagoons, lakes, swamps, rivers, coastal islands and shorelines.

They are highly mobile, capable fliers able to reach considerable heights, searching out suitable areas of water and an adequate supply of food.

Diet

Fish form the main part of a pelican's diet, although crustaceans, amphibians and occasionally smaller birds are also eaten.

The sensitive bill helps locate fish in murky water. Pelicans use their bill pouches as nets. Once prey is caught, the pouch is drawn to the breast, emptying the water and allowing the bird to manoeuvre the prey to be swallowed head first.

Pelicans may feed alone or in groups which drive fish into a concentrated mass.

Breeding

The Australian Pelican begins breeding at two or three years of age. Breeding occurs in late spring in Tasmania.

The nest is prepared by the female and is a shallow scrape in earth or sand with a lining of seaweed, vegetation or feathers.

Pelicans will lay one or three chalky-white eggs. The first-hatched chick is substantially larger than its siblings and will be fed more. The smaller ones will eventually die of starvation or siblicide (i.e. killed by its sibling)

Call

Gruff croaks.

Distribution

Distribution Map courtesy Natural Values Atlas, data from theLIST © 2010 State of Tasmania.
The Australian Pelican is widespread on inland and coastal waters of Australia. It is also found in New Guinea,  some Pacific islands and parts of Indonesia. It is a vagrant to New Zealand.

The species is uncommon in Tasmania, although it does breed on a few islands in Bass Strait. It can be seen in small numbers at various locations along the eastern and northern coasts of Tasmania.