Bird O'clock

10 Fascinating Behaviors of Dalmatian Pelicans That Will Leave You in Awe

The Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) is an impressive bird with white feathers, black secondary wings, pinkish legs, and a massive bill. This species is the largest among the six pelican species worldwide, with a wingspan reaching up to 3.5 meters.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what makes the Dalmatian Pelican unique, focusing on identification, field characteristics, plumages, and molts.


The Dalmatian Pelican can be identified by its yellow to orange throat pouch and from the white plumage of the neck stretching down to its thighs. Their black secondary wings do not have any white markings, while their head is paler than their neck.

You can also spot their red eyes and a slight yellow fringe around the eyes. When in their breeding plumage, their total appearance becomes striking, making them easy to spot.

However, outside the breeding season, their physical features are less evident, and they may resemble other pelican species. Field


Dalmatian Pelicans reside in wetlands not far from freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, or marshes.

They usually have a single crest feather coming off their head, unlike other species with double feathers. In flight, they appear heavier and sturdier because of their massive size, with slow wingbeats.

Adult pelicans often fly in groups, using a V formation, while juveniles ride thermals and look more scattered.

Similar Species

The Dalmatian Pelican closely resembles the Great White Pelican, with the latter having gray legs and a pink colored bill that is fleshier and more delicate. Another close relative is the Pink-backed Pelican, which can be spotted in sub-Saharan Africa, and which has a pinkish back and shorter bill.


Like other birds, the Dalmatian Pelican has various plumages during its lifetime. Juvenile pelicans, which leave their nests eight to 12 weeks after hatching, sport a relatively dark plumage.

They have brownish-gray wings with brown feathers, white underparts, and a gray-colored head. After the first winter, they start exhibiting adult breeding plumage features such as black-highlighted secondary wings.

By the second or third year, they develop into striking adults.


Birds undergo periodic molts to replace their old, worn-out feathers. The Dalmatian Pelican undergoes full body molts twice a year: once before the breeding season and a second after the breeding season to replace all flight feathers.

Also, during non-breeding periods, some birds undergo partial molts in which only their body feathers molt. In conclusion, the Dalmatian Pelican is one of the largest bird species globally and has remarkable plumages and molting patterns.

Easily recognizable by their massive size and yellow to orange throat pouches, anyone interested in observing these birds need only visit areas near freshwater sources. By understanding their identification, field characteristics, plumages, and molting patterns, youll have the knowledge necessary to identify this bird species easily.

Its fascinating to witness their beauty, aggression during breeding season, and movement patterns when in flight – theres a lot to learn about this amazing bird!

The history of systematics relating to the distribution, variation, and related species of birds has always been a fascinating area of avian study. The critical class of birds known as Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus crispus), a species that prefers the wetlands of Eurasia, has been a source of research interest for ornithologists, ecologists, and nature enthusiasts alike.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the historical changes to the distribution of the Dalmatian Pelican, its geographic variation and subspecies, and the related pelican species.

Systematics History

The systematic history of Dalmatian Pelicans, which are members of the genus Pelecanus, has evolved steadily over the years. These birds have been known to occur in three separate populations that occupy different ranges within Eurasia.

The first descriptions of the Dalmatian Pelican date back to the 18th century by Christian Ludwig Brehm, a German Lutheran minister and ornithologist. Subsequent taxonomic studies classified the Dalmatian Pelican as a distinct species, separate from the Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus).

Geographic Variation

Studies have shown that there are three geographic variations or populations of the Dalmatian Pelican living in the wild; these are the Eastern Mediterranean, the North-Western Black Sea region, and the Caspian Sea region and Central Asia. The Caspian Sea population is the smallest and least studied.

The differences in geographic variation are not limited to physical characteristics but also extend to ecological behavior and breeding patterns. For example, the Eastern Mediterranean population is known for producing the largest birds, while the North-Western Black Sea population is smaller in size and only breeds on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov.

The Central Asian population is the most restricted and breeds in wetlands near the Aral Sea.


There are no recognized subspecies of Dalmatian Pelicans, but some experts suggest that the population varying from Caspian to Central Asian might constitute a distinct subspecies because of the ecological and behavioral differences. However, more research is needed to establish this as a subspecies.

Related Species

Dalmatian Pelicans share a common ancestry with other pelican species in the Pelecanus genus, including the American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus), Great White Pelican, and the Pink-backed Pelican (Pelecanus rufescens). Of particular interest in relation to the Dalmatian Pelican are the Great White Pelican and Pink-backed Pelican, as they are close relatives that share similar physical characteristics.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Dalmatian Pelican has endured significant changes in its distribution over the decades. The species was once widespread, occupying wetlands throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

However, increased human activity such as land reclamation and drainage resulted in their sharp decline, with the species nearly going extinct in the 20th century. Thanks to numerous conservation efforts, the Dalmatian Pelican’s population has witnessed a significant increase in recent years, with freshwater habitats being restored to their former conditions, allowing the birds to thrive.

Presently, they can be found in wetland areas throughout the Balkans, the Caspian Sea, Turkey, and Russia. In conclusion, the Dalmatian Pelican systematics have undergone significant changes over the years, which have helped researchers understand the bird’s geographic variation, related species, and distribution history better.

While there are no recognized subspecies of the Dalmatian Pelican, there are some suggestions that the central Asian population may become a distinct subspecies. The changes in distribution over the centuries have been mainly attributed to human activity, but with proper conservation efforts, their numbers are now rebounding, and they can be found in various regions of Eurasia.

These studies help provide insights into one of the most intriguing bird species in the world. Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) are known for being the largest and rarest pelican species in the world, occupying freshwater and brackish wetlands across southeastern Europe and Asia.

These gamely birds lead a fascinating life, and in this article, we will take a closer look at their habitat, movements, and migratory patterns.


Dalmatian pelicans inhabit a range of habitats that are primarily centered around wetlands, including lakes, rivers, deltas, coastal lagoons, and vast marshlands. They are very selective about their habitat types and prefer patches of open water surrounded by shallow waters with sufficient food supply.

They are known to be very social and form large groups during breeding seasons, often establishing colonies on islands or secluded sandbars. In these wetland habitats, the Dalmatian Pelican enjoys a varied diet, including fish, eels, and frogs, which they catch by dipping their large bills into the water and scooping up prey.

They are specially adapted to their aquatic lifestyle. Their long necks and pliable throat pouches help them quickly swallow their prey underwater, and their webbed feet are strong enough to gain traction on slippery surfaces when they need to catch prey.


During the non-breeding season, Dalmatian Pelicans are relatively sedentary, staying near their colony sites or wandering around nearby water bodies. When food becomes scarce in their breeding-grounds, the birds can cover vast distances to seek out new feeding areas.

This has been observed in Caspian populations, where the birds move up to several hundred kilometers to find feeding grounds in open waters of the Caspian Sea, during winter.

Migratory Patterns

Dalmatian Pelicans tend to be migratory, but the timing and distance covered vary depending on the population. Some populations are resident, and do not migrate at all, while others cover vast distances to reach breeding or overwintering grounds.

The central Asian populations show the most significant migratory patterns, with the birds making their way downriver annually, from the breeding grounds near Aral Sea, to the Caspian Sea or the Persian Gulf. The Caspian Sea population breeds in lower portions of the Volga delta, passes the first winter on the Middle East’s lakes and coasts, and returns to the breeding ground in early spring.

In contrast, the Dalmatian Pelicans in Turkey are generally resident, with some birds translocating within the country for favorable seasonal food sources. The breeding populations of Dalmatian Pelicans are generally widely distributed, with several populations spread across widespread areas in southeastern Europe and Asia.

However, these birds have undergone significant habitat loss and other dangers caused by humans such as disturbance from human activities and illegal fishing. Fortunately, Conservation programs have been initiated in their habitats, and they are quickly rebounding.

In conclusion, Dalmatian Pelicans are highly adapted creatures that inhabit wetland areas around Southeastern Europe, and Asia. They thrive in a range of wetland habitats and feed primarily on fish, eels, and frogs.

During their non-breeding season, the birds can travel to find feeding grounds, and the central Asian populations are migratory. The conservation efforts are critical for the survival of Dalmatian Pelicans, but with proper management and habitat restoration efforts, the species will continue to thrive in the years to come.

Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) are remarkable creatures with a unique lifestyle that sets them apart from other bird species. As the largest and rarest pelican species in the world, their diet, foraging patterns, vocal behavior, and metabolism deserve special attention.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these interesting aspects of Dalmatian Pelican biology.

Diet and Foraging


Dalmatian Pelicans are expert flyers, soaring across the wetlands and soaring up high with their unique wing structure and large wingspan. Once a target is spotted, the birds dive into the water, beak-first, stretching out their long necks to catch fish or small amphibians.

Unlike some other pelican species that hunt alone or in small groups, the Dalmatian Pelican is more social, often observed foraging for food in larger groups.


Their diet is primarily composed of fish, but they will supplement their meals with frogs, insects, crustaceans, and occasionally birds or small mammals if they cannot find their typical preferred food source. Some studies have shown that Dalmatian Pelicans are critical for maintaining ideal fish populations in the freshwater wetlands they inhabit as they consume an average of 1.5 kg of fish per day per adult.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Dalmatian Pelican has a unique metabolic system for an avian species, which allows them to regulate their body temperature more effectively. This trait allows the birds to forage in cold waters, which would usually be too cold for conventional avian species.

When these birds dive into the chilly waters, they experience an immediate drop in body temperature. However, their metabolic rate increases as soon as they start swimming, and they can maintain this steady metabolic rate throughout their time in the water, avoiding hypothermia.

Additionally, to improve their thermoregulation, Dalmatian Pelicans have been observed flapping their wings vigorously after they have come out of the cold water. The excess blood flow to the warmed muscles is then quickly redistributed to the core to maintain a steady internal temperature.

These thermoregulatory mechanisms help the birds regulate their temperatures by manipulating blood flow in their extremities, allowing them to carry out their foraging activities in a variety of conditions.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


Dalmatian Pelicans use a range of vocalizations to communicate with one another, generally producing hoarse, guttural sounds. Their vocalizations are more complex and varied during breeding seasons, when communication is necessary to maintain territorial boundaries.

Males produce louder and more robust calls, often used when fighting or displaying aggression to other birds. Females use more subtle sounds, indicating their preferences for a particular male, and for young chicks.

Dalmatian Pelicans also use non-vocal sounds to communicate with each other. Like other bird species, they use body language to show aggression or submission.

For example, during breeding seasons, males will puff out their bright-yellow chest pouches to show off to females or to intimidate other males. In conclusion, the Dalmatian Pelican leads a fascinating life and has developed several unique adaptations to help it survive in its environment.

Foraging for fish and other small aquatic animals is a critical aspect of their lifestyle, and they have a uniquely adapted metabolic system to cope with the cold waters in which they hunt. Vocal communication is also essential, particularly during the breeding season, where they use varied vocalizations and body language.

Overall, these adaptations show that the Dalmatian Pelican is a remarkable species, one whose biology is still being understood by avian experts. Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) are a fascinating species known for their unique behaviors, including their locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic, sexual behavior, breeding patterns, demography, and population numbers.

In this article, well take a closer look at these interesting aspects of the Dalmatian Pelican behavior.



Dalmatian Pelicans are expert flyers over their range of wetland habitats. They rely on their large, powerful wings to soar across the water and gain altitude.

They also have strong, webbed feet that allow them to swim efficiently through the water. It’s fascinating to watch these large, heavy birds gracefully take to the sky or dive into the water to catch their prey.

Self Maintenance

To maintain their perfect silky feathers for insulation, waterproofing and showmanship during breeding and mating season, Dalmatian Pelicans require rigorous grooming. They have a gland near their tail that helps them distribute oils through their feathers to make them waterproof.

Individual birds are known to spend a good portion of their day preening, using their bills to comb through their feathers carefully.

Agonistic Behavior

Dalmatian Pelicans are generally known for their social, cooperative behavior, often found feeding together in large groups. However, conflicts can arise between breeding pairs or when birds compete for food sources.

In these cases, pelicans have been known to use aggressive posturing, such as vocalizing, flashing their wings, or using physical force to signal one another.

Sexual Behavior

During breeding seasons, Dalmatian Pelicans exhibit unique sexual behavior. Males will try and establish breeding territories to impress females.

These breeding territories are generally located in shallow parts of the wetlands with plenty of access to food. Males also engage in display and courtship flights to impress females.

Once a female has selected a mate, pair bonds are established and remain throughout the breeding season. Female pelicans lay clutches of typically two eggs, which are incubated by both parents.


Dalmatian Pelicans generally breed between April and June, although breeding times depend on the region of their wetlands. During breeding seasons, Dalmatian Pelicans form large colonies on islands or secluded sandbars, and males establish breeding territories to attract females.

They build a rough nest of sticks, grasses, and other available materials. After hatching, both parents feed the chicks by regurgitating food for up to three months.

Parents use a unique vocalization to call their chicks to be fed.

Demography and Populations

Dalmatian Pelicans have shown signs of population recovery in recent years, thanks to local habitat restoration projects’ efforts. Currently, about 15,000 to 18,000 Dalmatian Pelicans are estimated to exist globally, with breeding populations spread across southeastern Europe and Asia.

However, populations of these birds remain threatened by loss of breeding and feeding habitat, human disturbance, poaching of eggs and adults, and habitat degradation. In conclusion, Dalmatian Pelicans are an intriguing species with complex and intriguing behaviors.

Their locomotion, social behaviors, sexual behaviors, breeding patterns, demography, and populations have been studied extensively. These studies provide insights into the lives

Popular Posts