American Oceans

Are Pelicans Dangerous?

Pelicans are fascinating creatures known for their large bills and distinctive appearance. However, some people may wonder whether pelicans are dangerous.

a pelican with its mouth open

While pelicans are not typically aggressive towards humans, they can be dangerous in certain situations.

Pelicans are skilled hunters and feed primarily on fish, which they catch by diving into the water from high above.

They are also known to eat birds and small mammals. In addition, pelicans are known to be carriers of various diseases, including avian influenza and West Nile virus.

Pelican Overview

brown pelican

Pelicans are large, water-loving birds that are found in many parts of the world. They are known for their long beaks and large throat pouches, which they use to catch fish.

There are several species of pelicans, including the brown pelican, white pelican, American white pelican, Peruvian pelican, Dalmatian pelican, and Australian pelican.

Pelicans are generally not considered dangerous to humans. They are not aggressive and will usually avoid people if possible.

However, they can be dangerous if they feel threatened or if they are protecting their young. In such cases, they may use their beaks or wings to defend themselves.

The brown pelican is found along the coasts of North and South America. It is known for its spectacular diving ability, which allows it to plunge into the water from heights of up to 60 feet (18 meters) to catch fish.

The white pelican is found in North America, Europe, and Asia. It is a social bird that often feeds in groups, using its large beak to scoop up fish from the water.

The American white pelican is found in North America and is one of the largest birds in the world, with a wingspan of up to 9 feet (2.7 meters). It is known for its distinctive appearance, with a bright orange bill and a large, white body.

The Peruvian pelican is found along the coast of South America and is known for its large size and distinctive red gular pouch.

The Dalmatian pelican is found in Europe and Asia and is one of the largest pelican species, with a wingspan of up to 11 feet (3.5 meters). It is known for its large, bright red gular pouch and distinctive, shaggy crest.

The Australian pelican is found in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Indonesia. It is known for its large, pink bill and its habit of feeding in large groups.

Physical Features

brown pelican floating in ocean

Pelicans are large water birds with distinct physical features that make them easily identifiable.

They are known for their long bills, webbed feet, and large wingspan. In this section, we will discuss the physical features of pelicans, including their color variations, size, and wingspan.

Color Variations

Pelicans are known for their unique coloration. Depending on the species, they can have a range of colors from white to gray to brown.

For example, the American white pelican has white feathers with black primary and secondary flight feathers, while the brown pelican has brown and gray feathers with a white head and neck.


Pelicans are some of the largest birds in the world. They range in size from small to very large, with the smallest species being the brown pelican, which is around 3 feet in length and weighs about 3-4 pounds.

The largest species is the Dalmatian pelican, which can grow up to 5 feet in length and weigh up to 33 pounds.


Pelicans are known for their large wingspan, which allows them to soar effortlessly through the air. The wingspan of a pelican can range from 6 to 12 feet, depending on the species.

For example, the wingspan of the brown pelican is around 6.5 feet, while the wingspan of the great white pelican can be up to 12 feet.

Pelicans also have a unique physical feature called the gular pouch, which is a large, expandable pouch located beneath their bill.

This pouch allows pelicans to scoop up large quantities of fish and water, which they then drain out before swallowing the fish whole.

In terms of vision, pelicans have excellent eyesight, which allows them to spot fish from high in the air. Their bills, or beaks, are also specially adapted for catching and holding onto fish.

Habitat and Distribution

Brown Pelican Parents and Chick in Nest

Pelicans are found in various habitats across the world. They are commonly found in coastal areas, lakes, and rivers. Pelicans are known to inhabit rocky cliffs, estuaries, and shorelines.

They can be found in the Pacific Coast of North America, from Mexico to British Columbia. Pelicans are also found in Texas, Florida, and London Park.

Pelicans are known to breed on islands, coastal areas, and rivers. They usually build their nests on the ground or in trees.

Pelicans are social birds and are known to form colonies during the breeding season. These colonies can range from a few nests to several thousand nests.

Pelicans are not known to be dangerous to humans. However, they can become aggressive if they feel threatened or if their nests are disturbed.

Pelicans are also known to steal fish from fishermen and can cause damage to fishing gear. It is important to keep a safe distance from pelicans and avoid disturbing their nests.

Diet and Hunting Habits

pelican flock over beach in north america

Pelicans are known for their unique hunting techniques. They are large birds with long bills and a throat pouch that can hold up to three times their stomach’s capacity.

Pelicans mainly feed on fish, and their diet varies depending on the location and availability of their food source.

Pelicans are excellent hunters and use various techniques to catch their prey. One of the most common methods is called “scooping.” Pelicans fly over the water and use their beaks to scoop up fish.

They then transfer the fish to their pouch and swallow them whole. Pelicans also hunt by swimming and diving underwater to catch fish.

Sardines are one of the primary food sources for pelicans, and they are known to feed on other small fish and crustaceans as well. Pelicans are opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever is available to them.

They are also known to scavenge for food and will eat dead fish or other animals.

Pelicans are not dangerous to humans, and they do not pose a threat unless provoked. However, pelicans can become aggressive if they feel threatened or if their nesting area is disturbed.

It is important to respect their habitat and avoid disturbing them during breeding season.

Behavior and Social Structure

a pelican swallowing a large fish whole

Pelicans are highly social birds that live in large groups called formations, flocks, or pods. They are known for their cooperative feeding behavior, where they work together to corral fish into shallow water and then scoop them up in their pouches.

They are also known for their soaring ability, where they can glide for long distances without flapping their wings.

Within a flock, pelicans have a hierarchical social structure, with dominant birds having priority access to food and nesting sites.

They communicate with each other through a variety of vocalizations, including honks, grunts, and bill clattering.

Preening is an important behavior for pelicans, as it helps to keep their feathers in good condition. They use their bills to spread oil from a gland near their tail onto their feathers, which helps to waterproof them and keep them clean.

Pelicans also engage in allopreening, where they preen each other’s feathers as a form of social bonding.

Pelicans and Humans

brown pelican eating a fish

Pelicans are large birds that are often found near bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and oceans. They are known for their distinctive long bills and large throat pouches that they use for catching fish.

While pelicans are not typically aggressive towards humans, there are certain situations where they may become dangerous.

For example, if a pelican feels threatened or cornered, it may lash out with its bill or wings in an attempt to defend itself. This is especially true if the pelican is protecting its nest or young. Therefore, it is important to give pelicans plenty of space and avoid getting too close to them.

In addition to being potentially dangerous, pelicans can also pose a health risk to humans. This is because they are known carriers of several types of bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella.

Therefore, it is important to wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with a pelican or its droppings.

Despite these potential risks, many people still choose to keep pelicans as pets. However, it is important to note that pelicans require a lot of space and specialized care, and are not suitable for most households.

Therefore, it is recommended that only experienced ornithologists or wildlife rehabilitators attempt to care for pelicans.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the intelligence level of pelicans?

Pelicans are known to be intelligent birds. They have been observed using tools and working cooperatively to catch fish. However, their intelligence level has not been extensively studied.

What is the strength of a pelican’s bite?

Pelicans have strong beaks that are adapted for catching and holding fish. Their bite strength varies depending on the species and size of the bird. Brown pelicans, for example, have a bite force of around 80 pounds per square inch (psi).

What are the names of groups of pelicans?

A group of pelicans is called a pod, pouch, or scoop.

Do pelicans have teeth?

Pelicans do not have teeth. Instead, they have a serrated beak that helps them grip slippery fish.

Can pelican bites cause infections?

Pelican bites can cause infections if the wound is not properly cleaned and treated. It is important to seek medical attention if you are bitten by a pelican.

Are pelican bites painful?

Pelican bites can be painful due to the strength of their beaks and the size of their bills. It is important to avoid getting too close to pelicans and to give them plenty of space.

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