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Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species has declined at a moderately rapid rate owing to a number of threats. For this reason the species is classified as Near Threatened.

Taxonomic source(s)
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.

127-140 cm. Small, dull, pelican with spotted bill and pouch. Dusky, tufted hindcrown and hindneck, bluish lores, mostly pinkish upper mandible, and pale flight feathers from below. Similar spp. Dalmatian Pelican P. crispus is larger, brighter white with orange pouch and bushy, curly crest. Juvenile Great White Pelican P. onocrotalus is larger with darker head, neck and upperparts, paler lores and blackish flight feathers.

Distribution and population
Pelecanus philippensis was formerly common across much of Asia, but suffered a widespread decline (BirdLife International 2001). However, owing to protection and increased knowledge its estimated population has been revised upwards from a low of 5,500-10,000 birds in 2002 to an estimated 13,000-18,000 individuals in 2006. Known breeding populations are now confined to India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. The Indian population is thought to exceed 5,000 birds in the south owing to increases resulting from improved protection of the species (S. Subramanya in litt. 2006), plus c.3,000 in Assam (Choudhury 2000). In southern India there are 21 known breeding colonies in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (Subramanya 2006). One of these at Kokkare Bellur, Karnataka, has doubled in size in recent years (Subramanya 2006). However, another at Uppalapadu has declined from a historical high of 12,000 individuals, with only 1,500 observed in a recent count. The site is threatened by human encroachment (M. Akhtar in litt. 2008). In Sri Lanka, c.5,000 birds were thought to breed, possibly overlapping with the southern Indian populations (S. W. Kotagama in litt. 2001). However, recent evidence from Sri Lanka suggests a breeding population of fewer than 1,000 pairs, with counts from the three known colonies totalling just 400 pairs (C. Kaluthota in litt. 2006). In South-East Asia, an estimated 1,000-1,500 breeding pairs (T. Clements in litt. 2007) occur at Prek Toal on the Tonle Sap lake. This population is thought to be increasing following protection of breeding birds at the site beginning in 2002 (T. Clements in litt. 2007). It probably breeds in small numbers on Sumatra, Indonesia, but probably no longer in Myanmar (G. Chunkino in litt. 2006, Weerakoon and Athukorala 2007). There are recent records of migrants in Nepal, Laos and Vietnam, but it no longer occurs in the Philippines and China. Numbers recorded in Thailand have increased in recent years (P. Round in litt. 2006). This is thought to be as a result of improved protection of the nesting colonies in Cambodia. A juvenile, presumably a vagrant, individual has recently been recorded on Amami-Oshima Island, Japan (Hisahiro et al. 2010).

Population justification
S. Subramanya (in litt. 2006) has suggested that the population in South India now exceeds 5,000 birds owing to increases resulting from improved protection of the species. This would imply a total population of perhaps 7,000-10,000 individuals in South Asia, and 13,000-18,000 individuals globally, roughly equivalent to 8,700-12,000 mature individuals,

Trend justification
The species declined rapidly during the 20th century, but in recent years the population appears to have stabilised, with at least some populations apparently now increasing in response to improved protection (P. Round in litt. 2006, S. Subramanya in litt. 2006). The global population is suspected to have undergone a moderately rapid decline over the last three generations.

It inhabits a variety of deep and shallow wetlands, both man-made and natural, freshwater and saline, open and forested. It breeds colonially in tall trees or palms and feeds in open water, primarily on fish. Some populations appear to be sedentary.

A crucial factor in its decline was the loss of the Sittang valley breeding colony in Myanmar through deforestation and loss of feeding-sites. Key threats are a combination of human disturbance at breeding colonies and wetlands, extensive felling of nesting trees, the impact of invasive plants on the species's wetland habitat, hunting and poaching of eggs and chicks. Additional threats include the loss of important feeding-sites through siltation, agricultural intensification, aquaculture development, building of power stations, drainage and conversion of wetlands, declines in wetland productivity as a result of pesticide use, and over-exploitation of fisheries (Chandrasekhar 2009). There is some persecution resulting from competition between the birds and fishers. A potential but as yet unqualified threat is posed by avian influenza (P. Round in litt. 2006).

Conservation Actions Underway
In India, several key breeding colonies are in protected areas and some local communities have pelican conservation initiatives. In Cambodia, the breeding colonies at Prek Toal and Moat Khla/Boeng Chhma are core areas of Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve. Conservation actions to reduce chick and egg collection and other forms of disturbance to the breeding colony at Prek Toal have been in place since the late 1990s. Eight out of 15 nesting sites in Tamil Nadu are protected. An awareness programme has been initiated in Sri Lanka as part of a project funded by the Conservation Leadership Programme. This has also set up research stations concerned with improving knowledge of the species (Weerakoon and Athukorala 2007). Conservation Actions Proposed
Identify and survey colonies in Cambodia and any remaining in Myanmar. Afford strict protection to important nesting colonies and key feeding-sites. Promote strict control of pesticide use in important feeding areas. Continue and strengthen on-going conservation actions at the Prek Toal colony, Tonle Sap lake. Draft and enforce new legislation pertaining to large waterbird colony conservation around Tonle Sap lake. Expand conservation awareness programmes at key sites. Monitor the population for signs of avian influenza.

BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Chandrasekhar, A. 2009. Of Pelicans and power plants. Mistnet 10(1): 7-9.

Choudhury, A. 2000. The birds of Assam. Gibbon Books and WWF-India, Guwahati, India.

Hisahiro, T.; Mikio, T.; Takashi, S. 2010. A record of a juvenile Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis on Amami-Oshima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture. Japanese Journal of Ornithology 59(1): 65-68.

Kannan, V.; Manakadan, R. 2005. The status and distribution of Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis in southern India. Forktail 21: 9-14.

Subramanya, S. 2006. Pelicans bounce back. World Birdwatch 28: 4.

Weerakoon, K.; Athukorala, H. undated. Conservation of Spot-billed Pelican in North Central and Central provinces of Sri Lanka.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

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
Allinson, T, Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Davidson, P., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S., Peet, N., Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J., Tobias, J.

Chan, S., Chunkino, G., Clements, T., Kaluthota, C., Kotagama, S., Li, Z., Mahood, S., Round, P., Subramanya, S.

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Pelecanus philippensis. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016.

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 - Spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Pelecanidae (Pelicans)
Species name author Gmelin, 1789
Population size 8700-12000 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1,500,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species