Great white pelicans in Soysambu conservancy

Great White Pelican

Scientific Name: Pelecanus onocrotalus

By Duncan Oduor and Ezekiel Chebii

Soysambu Research Center

World Distribution

Great white pelicans are found in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. The ones in Africa stay here throughout the year, but the others fly from Eastern Europe (migrate) to Africa in the winter because they do not like cold weather.


Great white pelicans spend a great deal of their time in the water. They usually choose large, freshwater lakes that have reed beds or small islands that can be used as safe places to nest as in lake Elmenteita.


They feed mainly on fish, though they sometimes eat crustaceans (shrimp-like creatures). They usually fish in shallow water. They feed on Tilapia grahami in lake Elmenteita.

  • Use pouch to scoop up several litres of water with fish swimming.
  • Lift head up and squeeze pouch to get rid of water.
  • Swallow fish.

They often use teamwork when feeding: a group of 8-12 birds swim into a horseshoe shape to surround the fish, then, all together, they plunge in their beaks and scoop them out.


Vultures, eagles, jackals, hyenas and lions could eat young pelicans. Adults are sometimes preyed by crocodiles.

SOY87swaraPelicans breeding site in Lake Elementaita


Pelicans often breed in large colonies of 40,000 to 50,000 pairs. Nests are usually just a rough pile of twigs on the ground. Two eggs are laid, which both parents keep warm by taking turns to rest them on their feet. After 29-36 days the eggs hatch into bald, helpless chicks which the parents feed from a special liquid that runs down their beaks. The chicks are able to fly when they are 10 – 12 weeks old, but will not be ready to breed themselves until they are aged 3-4 years.

Other important facts

  • Males are larger than females and have larger beaks.
  • The little hook on the end of the beak is used for preening (combing) the feathers to keep them in perfect condition for flying. Special oil keeps them waterproof.
  • Pelicans are light for their size (5 – 9 kg) because of air spaces in the bones and under the skin.

Pelicans lifespan in the wild is 15 -20 years while in captivity they can stay for 60 years.

Facts and Figures About Great White Pelicans

Name Great white pelican
Type of animal Bird
Where found Africa, Europe
Habitat Lakes
Diet Carnivorous
Average length 170 cm
Average weight 9 kg
Average number of young per year 2
Egg incubation 32 days
Maximum lifespan 27 years

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