Do Pelicans Eat Birds? Exploring Feeding Habits of Pelicans




Do Pelicans Eat Birds

Have you ever wondered whether gigantic pelicans actually get a taste of other birds? This article answers that question and explores everything about the feeding habits of Pelicanst. 

So first, do pelicans actually eat birds? Here’s the brief answer you are looking for. 

Pelicans are not picky eaters, mainly dining on fish, but they’re also known to surprise us by occasionally snacking on smaller birds, so yes they do eat birds and other animals as well. 

But, do all pelican species put birds on their menus? Keep on reading to learn more about the topic. 

Pelican Species 

Pelicans are water-loving birds that spend their lives around lakes, rivers, and coastlines.

There are eight different species of Pelicans in the World distributed throughout the World.

They come in common shapes and more or less the same sizes, each adapted to their unique watery homes. 

Here are the eight Pelican species in the World 

American White Pelican(Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)127- 165 cmNorth America
Brown Pelican(Pelecanus occidentalis)100-137 cmCentral America
Peruvian Pelican(Pelecanus thagus)137-152 cmPeru
Great White Pelican(Pelecanus onocrotalus)140-175 cmAfrica and Asia
Australian Pelican(Pelecanus conspicillatus)152-188 cmAustralia and New Guinea
Pink-backed Pelican(Pelecanus rufescens)125-132 cmAfrica
Spot-billed Pelican(Pelecanus philippensis)127-152 cmAsia
Dalmatian Pelican(Pelecanus crispus)160-180 cmEurope and Asia

From the small Brown Pelican to the Great White Pelican, these birds have carved out their niches in nature. Pelicans are not just eye-catching with their long bills and graceful flight, they also play a crucial role in the aquatic ecosystems they call home. 

In these ecosystems, pelicans balance the food chain by controlling fish populations and aiding in nutrient distribution through their droppings. They’re like the underwater gardeners of their habitat, helping to keep things in harmony. 

So, while pelicans might seem like simple birds, they’re actually vital cogs in the wheel of nature.

Do Pelicans Eat Birds
Do Pelicans Eat Birds?

Pelican Diet: What Do They Usually Consume?

Pelicans have some fascinating eating habits. When it comes to food, pelicans are primarily fish enthusiasts. 

These graceful creatures are well-known for their exceptional fishing skills. 

They often glide over water bodies, eyeing the surface for any movement. Suddenly, with a swift and graceful dive, they plunge into the water, using their pouched bills as nets to catch fish. 

This preference for fish as their main food source showcases their remarkable adaptation to aquatic life.

Yet, it’s not only fish that make up their diet. Pelicans are opportunistic feeders, meaning they adjust their meals based on what’s available. 

In addition to fish, pelicans also have a taste for crustaceans, those small shelled critters found in watery habitats. 

They expertly scoop up creatures like crabs and crayfish using their broad bills. This versatile diet allows pelicans to thrive in various environments.

Moreover, don’t be surprised if you spot a pelican munching on something other than seafood. These birds have been known to include amphibians like frogs and tadpoles in their menu. 

This eclectic dining choice showcases their adaptability and willingness to explore different food sources.

Instances of Pelicans Eating Birds

They are not solely confined to a seafood and fishy diet. Real-life instances have shed light on their occasional appetite for birds. Yes, you read that right – pelicans eating birds!

Picture this: a pelican soaring above a serene lake, suddenly swooping down to snatch a passing bird. These remarkable scenes have been captured, challenging the notion that pelicans are strictly fish lovers. 

These instances serve as a reminder of nature’s complexity and the adaptability of these magnificent creatures.

When it comes to the types of birds pelicans target, it’s not just any avian on the menu. They have been observed consuming chicks of water birds, and smaller birds particularly those that navigate close to water bodies. 

How do pelicans eat birds?

  • Pelicans catch fish by dipping their bills into the water, creating a pouch that they then use to scoop up fish. They then drain the water from their pouches before swallowing the fish. 
  • If a pelican wanted to catch a smaller bird, it would likely use a similar process—scooping it into its pouch and swallowing it. 
  • However, it’s important to reiterate that this is not a common behavior for pelicans, and their feeding adaptations are primarily suited for fish consumption.

Do pelicans eat pigeons?

  • While pelicans are not known to commonly eat pigeons, there have been rare instances where they might consume smaller birds if the opportunity arises and the conditions are right. 
  • However, such cases are not the norm for pelicans and are not a significant part of their diet.

Can a pelican swallow a pigeon?

  • Yes, it’s possible for a pelican to swallow a pigeon due to the expandable size of its pouch, but it’s not a common behavior. 
  • Pelicans are primarily fish-eating birds, and while they might consume smaller birds in rare instances, their natural diet and feeding behaviors are focused on catching and eating fish.

Do pelicans eat seagulls?

  • The probability of catching a seagull is extremely low for a Pelican but there is always a chance to catch a weak and a juvenile smaller size gull when the pelican is also competing for the same prey item; the fish. 
  • But seagulls are not the preferred menu item for Pelicans. 

Do pelicans eat ducks?

  • No, Pelicans do not eat ducks, but there are rare occasions that pelicans have consumed little ducklings when they wander without their parental ducks in the same habitat.
  • It is almost impossible for a pelican to eat a fully-grown adult duck.   

Pelican Feeding Techniques: How Do They Catch and Consume Prey?

One of their most astonishing behaviors is plunge diving. Picture this: a pelican, soaring above the water’s surface, gently gliding onto the water surface, and settling on the water surface. 

Then when it spots its prey below, with precision and speed, it folds its wings and dives headfirst into the water, using its keen eyes to target fish. 

This rapid maneuver allows pelicans to capitalize on surprise, catching fish unaware.

But that’s not all – pelicans are also known for their cooperative hunting strategies. They work together, herding fish into shallow waters where escape becomes difficult for their prey. 

It’s a fascinating display of teamwork, as they surround and scoop up fish in their pouch-like bills.

Speaking of their bills, pelicans possess an extraordinary toolset for capturing and consuming prey. 

Their long, hooked bills act as formidable fishing nets, while their expandable throat pouches play a vital role in securing their catch. 

After a successful dive, the pelican maneuvers its pouch to drain out water, leaving only the captured fish. This sophisticated system ensures efficient consumption.

What is the pouch of the pelican beak used for?

The pouch of a pelican’s beak is primarily used for catching and holding fish while the pelican is feeding. 

Pelicans have a distinctive feeding technique where they dip their bills into the water to catch fish. 

Their expandable pouch allows them to scoop up large amounts of water along with the fish, and then they can drain the water out, leaving just the fish trapped inside the pouch. 

This specialized pouch enables pelicans to catch a significant amount of fish in a single feeding dive.

Why do pelicans have a hook at the tip of their beak?

The hook at the tip of a pelican’s beak serves a functional purpose related to their feeding behavior. 

This hook, known as the “gular hook,” helps pelicans secure and manipulate their slippery prey, such as fish. 

When a pelican catches a fish in its pouch, the gular hook helps prevent the fish from escaping by providing a means to control and position the fish within the pouch. 

This adaptation is particularly important because pelicans often catch and consume relatively large fish, and the gular hook aids in preventing the fish from slipping out while the pelican drains water from its pouch before swallowing the prey. 

In essence, the gular hook assists pelicans in effectively handling and consuming their aquatic prey.

Factors Influencing Pelican Diet Variation

Have you ever wondered why pelicans exhibit such diverse dietary habits? The answer lies in a multitude of factors that shape their menu choices. 

Geographical location plays a pivotal role. Pelicans residing in coastal areas tend to have easy access to fish-rich environments, thus maintaining their traditional piscivorous preferences. 

On the other hand, those inhabiting freshwater bodies might have an array of prey at their disposal, leading to more varied diets.

Habitat availability is another key influencer. Pelicans are opportunistic feeders, adapting their diets based on what’s locally abundant. 

In regions with plentiful fish, they’ll focus primarily on piscine delights. In places where crustaceans or other small aquatic creatures thrive, pelicans might shift their attention accordingly.

Seasonal changes also come into play. During certain times of the year, fish populations may dwindle due to migration patterns or other ecological shifts. 

Consequently, pelicans might shift their dietary focus to alternative food sources like birds, amphibians, or crustaceans, illustrating their adaptability in the face of changing circumstances.

The environment itself significantly shapes their dining preferences. Factors like water temperature, nutrient levels, and prey availability all influence the diversity of pelican diets. 

These adaptable birds remind us that nature is a complex web of interactions where survival often hinges on the flexibility to adjust to various culinary options.


In our exploration of pelican dietary habits, we’ve uncovered a fascinating world of variety and adaptability of these magnificent birds. 

While pelicans are renowned for their fish-catching prowess, they’ve surprised us by occasionally including birds in their meals. 

This revelation underlines the complexity of nature’s balance, where creatures adjust their diets based on geographic, habitat, and seasonal factors. 

As we marvel at pelicans’ versatile feeding strategies, let’s not forget the larger lesson: to appreciate the complex web of connections that sustain all living beings.