What is a Dalmatian Pelican?

Christine Hudson

The Dalmatian Pelican, Pelecanus crispus, is the largest member of the pelican bird family. On average, a mature Dalmatian Pelican has a body 65 to 75 inches (about 170 to 190 cm) long with a 10 foot (about 3 m) wingspan and weighs 23 to 33 pounds (about 10.5 to 15 kg). Sometimes called the curly-headed pelican for its curly nape feathers, the Dalmatian Pelican also differs from the White Pelican with its gray legs and light-gray plumage.

The Dalmatian pelican is often found in wetland areas.
The Dalmatian pelican is often found in wetland areas.

This pelican is native to southeast Europe, India, and China. Dalmatian Pelicans make nests out of piled vegetation in shallow lakes, deltas, and swamps. Most of these birds are territorial and choose areas with little to no human disturbance. They also generally choose to live in small flocks of five or less.

There are eight species of pelican, a type of waterbird, found throughout the world.
There are eight species of pelican, a type of waterbird, found throughout the world.

As with other pelicans, the Dalmatian Pelican feeds on fish and other small birds by scooping them into their large bills. It is less likely to fish in large groups, and instead tends to feed alone or in pairs. The diet of any Dalmatian Pelicans depends on its particular location but usually consists of carp, rudd, and even eels. They sometimes eat other wetland birds smaller than themselves as well, but tend to prefer fish.

At the end of the 20th century, the Dalmatian Pelican was removed from vulnerable status and downgraded to the status of conservation dependent. Due to a reduction in its wetland habitat and hunting, the population of the Dalmatian Pelican declined rapidly during the century. Conservation measures were then adopted in Europe around 1994, and showed enough positive results to begin growing the population again. Like all wetland creatures, the Dalmatian Pelican is susceptible to human interference. Blamed for declines in fishing and hunted for prized feathers and bill, the pelican’s numbers even dwindled to below 1,000 at one time.

It usually takes about three to four years for the Dalmatian Pelican to reach sexual maturity, which can cause population growth to be much slower than with other wetland creatures. During the mating season, the plumage and nape feathers turn to a lighter gray color and contrast with a red-orange pouch beneath the bill that is used to attract mates. The mating season typically runs from mid-January to late July, thereby giving the species ample time for repopulation. European conservationists were able to aid the natural process by setting up preservations, introducing zoo-raised pelicans into their natural habitat, and closely monitoring their overall health and numbers.

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