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Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus

This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend is not known, but the population is not believed to be decreasing sufficiently rapidly to approach the thresholds under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Trend justification
The overall population trend is uncertain, as some populations are decreasing, while others are increasing, stable, or have unknown trends (Wetlands International 2006).

Behaviour Northern populations of this species are fully migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and travel via important stop-over sites (Nelson 2005). Other populations are sedentary, dispersive (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Nelson 2005) or nomadic, flying over land to seek suitable feeding locations (Nelson 2005). The species nests in large colonies (del Hoyo et al. 1992) of 200 to 40,000 pairs (Brown et al. 1982, Snow and Perrins 1998, Nelson 2005) (occasionally with other species such as Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus) (Flint et al. 1984), breeding in the spring in temperate zones, in all months of the year in Africa and from February to April in India (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It usually fishes in flocks (del Hoyo et al. 1992) of 8-12 individuals (Brown et al. 1982) (up to 123) (Johnsgard 1993) and migrates in large flocks of 50-500 individuals (Snow and Perrins 1998). The species regularly flies long distances from breeding or roosting colonies to feed (del Hoyo et al. 1992), mostly fishing in the early-morning and early-evening (Johnsgard 1993). Habitat The species is associated with relatively large, warm, shallow fresh, brackish, alkaline or saline lakes, lagoons (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Johnsgard 1993), marshes (del Hoyo et al. 1992), broad rivers (Johnsgard 1993), deltas (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Johnsgard 1993), estuaries and coasts of landlocked seas (Snow and Perrins 1998). The species requires secure areas (Johnsgard 1993, Snow and Perrins 1998) of extensive reedbeds (del Hoyo et al. 1992), wet swamps, mudflats and sandbanks (Nelson 2005) or gravel and rocky substrates (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Johnsgard 1993, Snow and Perrins 1998) for nesting on (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Nelson 2005). Diet The species is entirely piscivorous, preferentially taking fish of between 300 and 600 g in weight (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding site It nests on the ground either on a pile of sticks and vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1992) or in a simple shallow scrape (Nelson 2005) in single- or mixed-species colonies (e.g. with Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus) (Flint et al. 1984), with a distance between neighbouring nests of c.70-80 cm (Nelson 2005). It shows a preference for nesting sites that are inaccessible to ground predators (Brown et al. 1982). Management information In the Palearctic Region the installation of floating rafts or wooden platforms as safe nesting sites, and the stabilisation of natural nesting areas by reconstructing islands or installing nylon-encased concrete revetments have been successful measures for increasing breeding success (Crivelli et al. 1991). Erecting markers on electricity powerlines or (preferably) burying the powerlines has been successful in significantly reducing deaths due to collision (Crivelli et al. 1991). Installing a series of horizontal strings spaced at intervals over aquaculture ponds is also a successful measure in preventing the species from depredating farmed fish (Crivelli et al. 1991)..

The species is threatened by habitat destruction through drainage (Crivelli et al. 1991, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Johnsgard 1993, Nelson 2005), the divergence of rivers for irrigation (Johnsgard 1993)7, agriculture development and industry (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It is also subject to climatic fluctuations that have a strong influence over water-levels in wetlands: floods leading to the inundation of nesting sites (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and lowering water-levels leading to the death of fish due to increased water salinity (Crivelli 1994). The species is threatened by persecution (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Johnsgard 1993) and hunting for sport because of its (minimal) depredation of fish from fish-farms (Crivelli et al. 1991). It also suffers mortality due to collisions with electric powerlines during migration, dispersal or on its wintering grounds and is often found drowned in fishing nets (Crivelli et al. 1991). Disturbance (del Hoyo et al. 1992), 8 (e.g. from tourism) threatens breeding colonies (Crivelli et al. 1991), and pesticides, heavy metal contamination and disease could have devastating effects on large colonies in the future (Crivelli et al. 1991, del Hoyo et al. 1992). Utilisation Adults of this species are hunted and sold for food at markets in Egypt (del Hoyo et al. 1992).

Brown, L.H., Urban, E.K. and Newman, K. 1982. The Birds of Africa, Volume I. Academic Press, London.

Crivelli, A. 1994. The importance of the former USSR for the conservation of pelican populations nesting in the Palaeartic. In: Crivelli, A.J.; Krivenko, V.G.; Vinogradov, V.G. (ed.), Pelicans in the former USSR, pp. 1-4. International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, Slimbridge, UK.

Crivelli, A. J.; Catsadorakis, G.; Jerrentrup, H.; Hatzilacos, D.; Michev, T. 1991. Conservation and management of pelicans nesting in the Palearctic. In: Salathé, T. (ed.), Conservation of migratory birds, pp. 137-152. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, U.K.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Flint, V.E., Boehme, R.L., Kostin, Y.V. and Kuznetsov, A.A. 1984. A field guide to birds of the USSR. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Johnsgard, P. A. 1993. Cormorants, darters, and pelicans of the world. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

Nelson, J. B. 2005. Pelicans, cormorants and their relatives. Pelecanidae, Sulidae, Phalacrocoracidae, Anhingidae, Fregatidae, Phaethontidae. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Further web sources of information
Detailed regional assessment and species account from the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International, 2015)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J. & Malpas, L.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Pelecanus onocrotalus. Downloaded from on 29/11/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/11/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Pelecanidae (Pelicans)
Species name author Linnaeus, 1758
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Unknown
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 846,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change
- 2015 European Red List assessment