Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus)

Dalmatian Pelican

[order] PELECANIFORMES | [family] Pelecanidae | [latin] Pelecanus crispus | [UK] Dalmatian Pelican | [FR] Pelican frise | [DE] Krauskopf-Pelikan | [ES] Pelicano cenudo | [NL] Kroeskoppelikaan


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

Huge, whitish waterbird. Silvery-white breeding plumage. Yellow to purple bare skin around eyes. Orange-red gular pouch at onset of breeding becoming yellow later. Pale grey underwing becoming darker at wing-tips. Bushy crest on nape. Similar spp. White Pelican P. onocrotalus is slightly smaller, has yellow gular pouch, more extensive bare skin around eye, downward hanging crest, pink legs and all-dark flight feathers. Voice Barking, hissing and grunting calls at colonies.

Listen to the sound of Dalmatian Pelican

[audio:http://www.aviflevoland.nl/sounddb/D/Dalmatian Pelican.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 310 cm wingspan max.: 345 cm
size min.: 160 cm size max.: 180 cm
incubation min.: 30 days incubation max.: 32 days
fledging min.: 83 days fledging max.: 32 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 3  


Eurasia : Central, Southwest


Dalmatian Pelicans are absent from cold regions, although they will tolerate temperatures below 0 degrees C for short periods (7-10 days). Originally, the species was probably found only in fresh water inland, but today there are a few colonies in brackish lagoon ecosystems in the Mediterranean region.

For breeding and roosting the birds need areas totally isolated from the mainland by water (e.g. islands, sand banks, reedbeds surrounded by water) in order to avoid predation by mammals (foxes, dogs, wolves, wild boars, jackals, etc.) and disturbance. The absence of adequate roosting areas can prevent pelicans using a site at any time of year.

The hydrological regime within wetlands is a further key factor in successful breeding, and also in the pelicans’ use of wetlands for other purposes. For example, the presence of shallow water is important for the successful spawning of fish which form the birds’ food, and Dalmatian Pelicans need wetlands with a rather high density of fish. Water transparency and depth are not important factors for successful foraging.


Breeding colonies are located on lakes, deltas and estuaries, preferably within reedbeds. Breeding birds usually arrive in February, and laying generally occurs 10 days later. The birds lay up to four eggs and the average clutch is 1.8. Incubation lasts 31-32 days and fledging takes 11-12 weeks. The main mortality during breeding is at the egg stage; hatching success varying from 35 to 70%. Contrary to common belief, the Dalmatian Pelican can easily rear two chicks and fledging success in a well-protected colony is over one chick per nest, up to a maximum of 1.35. Even in a protected area, however, breeding success can be less than one chick fledged per nest. At Srebarna, a Nature Reserve in Bulgaria, for example, average success between 1955 and 1993 was 0.84 chicks per nest with a coefficient of variation of 30%; this lower success might be explained by predation, especially by wild boars Sus scrofa destroying nests with eggs or killing chicks.

With the present state of knowledge of the population dynamics of pelicans it would appear that a success rate in the Dalmatian Pelican of 0.8 chicks per nest should be at least sufficient to keep the population stable. A success rate of over one chick per nest should ensure an increasing population.

Feeding habits

Dalmatian Pelicans eat only fish and feed alone or in groups. The composition of the diet depends almost entirely on the relative abundance of prey species, on their spatial and temporal distribution, and to a lesser extent on their behaviour. In lagoon systems the birds will catch mainly migratory fish such as eels Anguilla anguilla, mullets Mugil and sedentary fish such as gobies Gobius and sand-smelts Atherina. In inland fresh waters, preferred species are Cyprinidae such as roach Rutilus, bleak Alburnus, rudd Scardinius, carp Cyprinus carpio and others. Fish taken range in length from 3 to 50 cm. Birds sometimes feed far away from the breeding colony.


Conservation measures have resulted in a population increase in Europe, particularly at the species’s largest colony, at Lake Mikri Prespa in Greece. However, rapid population declines in the remainder of its range are suspected to be continuing and therefore the species is listed as Vulnerable.
This very large pelican has a discontinuous breeding range from the Balkan Peninsula to Mongolia. Since the last century its western populations have undergone a dramatic decrease and its distribution has considerably contracted. The population of northern Greece, currently the only breeding population of the European Union, is estimated at about 220 breeding pairs, about 50% of the total European population.
During ancient times pelicans appear to have been spread widely through western Europe. Considering that the temperature during the Paleolithic period was 2-3C higher than today it is possible that the Dalmatian Pelican bred over a large part of western Europe at this time. During this century and last, a strong decline has occurred in Europe with breeding colonies disappearing in former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Albania, Greece, Mongolia, former U.S.S.R., Romania and Turkey. Today, the species breeds in Albania, Bulgaria, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia only), Greece, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Romania, Russian Federation, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The best estimate of the world population is 3,215-4,280 pair. The former U.S.S.R. (Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan) harbours 80-84% of this, and the next most important country, Greece, has 6-8%. European numbers are estimated at 886-1,204 pairs (c.30% of the world population).
Dalmatian Pelican status Vulnerable


Migratory and partially migratory; rather little known. Apparently European breeders winter east Mediterranean from Balkans (mainly Greece, also c. 100 Bulgaria from 1988) to northern Egypt (now rare and irregular). Moderate numbers pass through Turkey; some remain to winter there (including Balkan and possibly Sea of Azov breeders), but markedly fewer in late 1980s than in 1970s. Few recent reports from elsewhere in Levant. 1000-2500 winter in Azerbaijan, varying between years. Autumn desertions of and spring returns to colonies both earlier than in White Pelican. Danube breeders leave August and return March. In Volga delta, return March but depart about October. Present Greek winter quarters August-March.

The wintering sites of the Dalmatian Pelican in south-east Europe, Turkey and former U.S.S.R. are well-known, but this does not apply to the Middle East (Iran, Iraq) or Asia (Pakistan, India, China), and several sites in these areas probably remain to be discovered. The January 1993 mid-winter counts in the Black Sea and Mediterranean (Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Syria and Turkey) gave a figure of 1,463 individuals and in the Middle East and Asia 4,803 individuals. These numbers are low considering that the world population in January (including immatures) should be 12,000-16,000 individuals.

Distribution map

Dalmatian Pelican distribution range map

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *