Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: pelican from Collins English Dictionary


1 any aquatic bird of the tropical and warm water family Pelecanidae, such as P. onocrotalus (white pelican): order Pelecaniformes. They have a long straight flattened bill, with a distensible pouch for engulfing fish

[Old English pellican, from Late Latin pelicānus, from Greek pelekān; perhaps related to Greek pelekus axe, perhaps from the shape of the bird's bill; compare Greek pelekas woodpecker]

Summary Article: pelican
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Large water bird of family Pelecanidae, order Pelecaniformes, remarkable for the pouch beneath the bill, which is used as a fishing net and temporary store for catches of fish. Some species grow up to 1.8 m/6 ft and have wingspans of 3 m/10 ft.

The legs are short and the feet large, with four webbed toes; the tail is short and rounded, and the neck long. The wings are long and expansive, and the birds are capable of rapid flight. The species are widely distributed, frequenting the seashore and margins of lakes, and feeding almost exclusively on fish, which are deposited in the pouch for subsequent digestion.

A nasal salt-secreting gland is present, which enables the animal to make use of sea water and the fluids of its food as a source of water, by excreting the excess salt content.

Species They include the American brown pelican Pelicanus occidentalis, which is marine, and the only diving pelican; the North American rough-billed pelican P. erythrorhynchus; the common pelican P. onocrotalus of Europe, Asia, and Africa; and the Australian black-backed pelican P. conspicillatus.

The common pelican has white plumage, tinged with red. It usually nests on the ground and lays two or three white eggs. The young are at first brown, and the mother feeds them by pushing their beaks into her pouch. The appearance of a red tip of the bill pressed against her breast probably gave origin to the fable that she feeds her young on her own blood.



© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article pelican
The Bloomsbury Guide to Art

The pelican piercing its own breast to feed its young with its blood is used in Christian art as a symbol of Christ 's redemptive spilling of...

Full text Article pelican
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). Credit:Norman Tomalin/Bruce Coleman Inc. Any of about eight species constituting the genus Pelecanus (fa

Full text Article pelican
Philip's Encyclopedia

Any of several species of inland water birds, with a characteristic distensible pouch under its bill for scooping up fish from shallow water. It...

See more from Credo