pelican, common name for a large, gregarious aquatic bird of warm regions, allied to the cormorants and gannets. Pelicans are heavy-bodied, long-necked birds with large, flat bills. They are graceful swimmers and fliers, often seen flying in long lines or circling at great heights. Fish are stored in a deep, expansible pouch below the lower mandible; the young feed from the pouch and throat. The white pelican, Pelecanus onocrotalus, of North America ranges from the NW United States to the Gulf and Florida coasts. It is about 5 ft (152.5 cm) long with a wingspread of 8 to 10 ft (244–300.5 cm). Both sexes have white plumage with black primary wing feathers. The white pelican scoops fish into its pouch as it swims; the smaller brown pelican, P. occidentalis, dives from the air for its prey. The eastern brown pelican of the SE United States and tropical America and the California brown pelican are strictly ocean birds. The spectacled pelican is found in Australia and New Guinea. There are several Old World species. Pelicans are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Pelecaniformes, family Pelecanidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Vertebrate Zoology