Pelicans are supremely striking and easily recognisable birds courtesy of their enormous bills, huge feet and stout body. Dalmatian pelicans, the largest species of pelican, have a colossal wingspan of up to 3.5m, making them one of the world’s largest flying birds. Pelicans are gregarious and social birds that colonise islands and coastal areas, so, what is a group of pelicans called?
The most common collective nouns for a group of pelicans are a squadron, pod, pouch or scoop of pelicans. Squadron perhaps refers to how pelicans fly in line formations, whereas pouch or scoop refers to their large bills with underslung pouches designed for scooping up fish and other food.
Pelicans demonstrate many highly sociable and cooperative behaviours - read on to find out more about this striking, large and gregarious bird!
A group of Pink Pelicans
Pelicans have very large and distinctive pouches slung under their bills. These pouches, which are made from gular skin, are designed to help pelicans hunt for food in the water. The pouches are so large and flexible that they can hold some 3 gallons (13 litres) of water!
This is why a group of pelicans is sometimes called a pouch. Watching pelicans feed is quite a fearsome sight as they quite literally scoop up animals, including fish, rodents, birds and amphibians, and swallow them whole.
A flock of Great White Pelicans
Pelicans are sociable birds that are known for their cooperative fishing abilities. Most species feed together in flocks, hunting at the same time and often sharing their quarry. In the breeding season, pelicans form large colonies of hundreds of birds, and they often form monogamous pairs for that current breeding season at least.
Once a group of pelicans establishes a colony, they will often remain as part of that colony throughout most of the year. This does depend on the species of pelican, as some, like the Dalmatian pelican, are more solitary and tend to live and feed in their breeding pairs rather than as a flock.
When it comes to nesting, pelicans often remain close to the flock but break off into more isolated areas to create well-hidden nests. Pelican chicks grow quickly and are generally ready to join the flock after some 12 weeks.
Other species, like Brown pelicans, form flocks of many hundreds or thousands of birds and tend to remain in that flock throughout much of the year. Some, but not all pelicans migrate, but when they do, they often form V-shaped formations or straight single-file lines whilst flying.
Group of Australian Pelicans
Pelicans flock together for similar reasons to many other birds, namely to locate a mate during the breeding season and to form safety in numbers. Pelicans are seasonally monogamous so need to find a new mate amongst their flock each year. Also, pelicans are likely to gravitate towards the areas most abundantly rich in food and with plentiful safe nesting sites. These include isolated islands and coastal areas.
A unique aspect of pelican social behaviour is their ability to fish cooperatively. The American white pelican, for example, has been observed to work in groups of 5 to 20 to hoard fish into shoals of fish into shallow waters. Some pelicans will take up the role of hoarding whereas others will take up the role of catching the fish. This allows them to catch more fish compared to if they were fishing alone.
A colony of Brown Pelicans
Pelicans can form colonies of thousands of birds, the most gregarious species probably being the Brown pelican and its 5 subspecies and the American white pelican. Brown pelicans maintain their colonies over several years and tend to migrate in large groups before returning to the same historical colony for the breeding season.
There is no specific name for a pair of pelicans. Pelicans are usually seasonally monogamous and will find a new mate each breeding season. Most species of pelican parents share nest building and chick feeding and rearing duties. Pelicans only act as pairs whilst nesting and rearing chicks - they are independent whilst they spend time with the flock.
Spot-billed Pelicans with chicks
A group of baby pelicans has no specific name, and you’d rarely see a group of baby pelicans together. Pelicans nest in their breeding pairs and tend to isolate themselves from the flock whilst rearing chicks that are ready to fledge in around just 12 weeks. When baby pelicans return to the flock, they’re already quite hard to discern from adult pelicans, hence why it’s rare and difficult to spot a baby pelican.
Like groups of pelicans in general, a group of white pelicans is usually called a squadron, scoop, pouch or pod. However, due to their tendency to flock together on rocky islands and coastal areas, groups of white pelicans are also commonly referred to as a rookery. White pelicans include the Great white pelican and American white pelican.
Pelicans are tremendous hunters, courtesy of their colossal bills and ability to swallow even large prey whole. Pelicans have been spotted eating all sorts of animals alive, using their pouches to scoop animals up and swallow them. They don’t just hunt fish but all manner of small animals including birds, reptiles, rodents and amphibians.
When it comes to hunting fish, pelicans have another trick up their sleeve. They’re capable of hunting collectively in small groups of 5 to 20 pelicans by first herding schools of fish into shallow water and then forming a semi-circle formation and enclosing the fish. As the semi-circle moves across the trapped school of fish, the pelicans extend their long necks under the water and scoop them up. This is thought to be more efficient than hunting alone.
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