Pink-backed Pelican

Pelecanus rufescens

Pink-backed Pelicans inhabit a variety of large water bodies and wetlands, including dams, lakes, slow-moving rivers, marshes, lagoons, estuaries and sheltered bays. They are diurnal in habit and feed exclusively on fish and amphibians caught underwater in their large bill pouches. Although one of the smaller kinds of pelican, at a weight of up to 7kg with a wingspan of up to 2.9m, it is still a very large bird.

Although they normally forage singly or in small groups, Pink-backed Pelicans breed communally in colonies numbering from 15-500 pairs, often associating with other species of waterbird at these localities. Pairs are monogamous, and usually build their stick-platform nests in the tops of trees (rarely on the ground) and use them for several consecutive years. In South Africa they breed in the summer rainy season, though further north breeding has been recorded throughout the year. Both sexes incubate the clutch of 1-4 eggs for a period of around 35 days. There’s much squabbling among the nestlings, often leading to smaller chicks dying of starvation or falling from the nest. The chicks start flying at about 3 months old.

The Pink-backed Pelican occurs patchily and irregularly in the provinces of South Africa’s northeast, with the iSimangaliso Wetland Park‘s Lake St. Lucia and Nsumo Pan probably the most reliable spots for viewing this species in our country, hosting an estimated 600 – 900 individuals at one of only three known nesting sites of this species in the country. They’re considered vulnerable in South Africa, suffering due to wetland loss and degradation. North of our borders the Pink-backed Pelican occurs over most of Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula and is considered of least concern, with a stable population, by the IUCN.


14 thoughts on “Pink-backed Pelican

    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Both our Pelican species occur at St. Lucia, but great if these look familiar, Colonialist. What I wouldn’t give to be at St. Lucia now rather than in Pretoria. I love the place.


    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Amazing that the “tropical” birds are moving northwards, Ilex. Global warming?

      I don’t think the pink-backed pelican’s colour is due to its diet, as they eat fish rather than shrimps, and the pinkish colour is restricted to only a small part of their body.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Midwestern Plant Girl

        I thought it may be global warming, but it’s actually not. It was that I wasn’t looking hard enough 😏
        They like to be near LARGE rivers to fish from, like the Mississippi. There’s only smaller rivers near me. Although, I do see one or two near a man made, flooded river / lake situation.
        They are such cool birds!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. John

    Lovely pictures, Dries! Pelicans have always fascinated me, but it will be some time before I get to see someone. The three-piece photo is amazingly well-photographed! I read in Wikipedia that it is a relatively small pelican, only about 150 cm tall and almost 2 meters between the wings! I do not call it to be small. 😀

    Liked by 1 person


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