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Australian Pelican

(Pelecanus conspicillatus)
Alternate name(s): "Spectacled Pelican"
Aboriginal name(s): "bilbungra", "boolungal", "millemurro", "nangkero", "parangool", "tarraloo", "thaumpara", "warandoo", "bulwarra", "kunumbirra" "gulaanbali" [yuwaalaraay], "guliyali"/"guliyaali"/"gulayaali" [gamilarray, yuwaalaraay, yuwaaliyaay]; "nerimba", "boodelong" "ngooloomberri" (WA)

Size: 1.6-1.8 m; wing span 2.3-2.5 m
Weight: 4-13 kg (typically 4.5-7.7 kg)
Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Australian Pelican at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range


Click here for sighting information




Close-up frontal view of a pair of Australian Pelicans in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Gold Coast, QLD, May 2014]

Close-up lateral view of an Australian Pelican in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Gold Coast, QLD, May 2014]


Lateral view of an Australian Pelican in non-breeding plumage, here in an upright stance (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)

Lateral view of an Australian Pelican in non-breeding plumage, now hunched (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)

Portrait of an Australian Pelican
[Iluka NR, NSW, 2005]

Two Australian Pelicans on a relatively small water surface on an inland creek
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2012]

Australian Pelicans resting on a sand bank (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Tweed River, Tweed Heads, NSW, December 2014]

Frontal view of two Australian Pelicans in flight
[Goran Lake, NSW, May 2012]

Close-up view of an Australian Pelican in flight
[Goran Lake, NSW, September 2011]

Lateral view of an Australian Pelican in flight
[Goran Lake, NSW, March 2012]

This photo demonstrates two phases of an Australian Pelican's wingbeat
[Goran Lake, NSW, March 2012]

Two Australian Pelicans gliding in their typical manner
[Goran Lake, NSW, March 2012]

View onto the upperwing pattern in flight

Here a flock of Australian Pelicans seen from underneath
[Near Narrabri, NSW, 2006]

Australian Pelican on a comfy seat
[Urunga Heads, NSW, August 2009]

Here a group taking possession of a jetty
[Near Wyong, NSW, June 2011]

Flock of about 110 Australian Pelicans at an ephemeral lake; one can also see 8 Black Swans just behind the pelicans; the hillrange in the background is Coolah Tops NP
[Goran Lake, NSW, June 2011]

Flock of about 300 Australian Pelicans at an ephemeral lake
[Goran Lake, NSW, December 2011]

Australian Pelican nursery on a sandbank at an ephemeral lake
[Goran Lake, NSW, April 2013]

Do you want to compare the size of an Australian White Ibis with Australian Pelicans? Click on image to set your scale...
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2008]

Pedestrians beware! Oncoming traffic - Australian Pelican trying to gain height
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2013]


Social behaviour: Communal Mobility: Nomadic Elementary unit: Flock

We have observed Australian Pelicans "whiffling" to lose height quickly for landing. While descending, they partially fold their wings (similar to raptors) into a "W" form. While descending rapidly in this way, the wing feathers produce - under the load of the bird's weight of up to 13 kg - a phenomenal roar that can be heard over distances of at least 500 m.

Rapidly descending ("whiffling") Australian Pelican
[Goran Lake, NSW, April 2012]

Here one reason to keep local waterways clean: Australian Pelican trying to pick up and swallow a plastic bottle; fortunately, in the end the bird did not succeed
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2012]

Flock of about 100 Australian Pelicans riding a thermal in order to gain height, together with one lonesome Royal Spoonbill
[Near Narrabri, NSW, March 2013]

These 35 or so Australian Pelicans have trapped themselves; fishing in a small permanent waterhole there was no way they could take off when a photographer approached them - instead they gathered at the centre of the only about 30-m wide water surface (photo taken from close range with a 55-mm lens)
[Narrabri, NSW, June 2013]

"Fisherman's Friend" - Australian Pelicans can become quite docile, especially when there are free handouts to be scavenged
[Old Bar, NSW, July 2013]

Australian Pelican touching down on water - full flaps, full brakes (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Tweed River, Tweed Heads, NSW, December 2014]

Australian Pelican touching down on water - here one can see clearly both the upperwing and underwing plumage (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Tweed River, Tweed Heads, NSW, December 2014]

Twitcher's tip

Australian Pelicans are world-famous for congregating at Lake Eyre - from all around the continent! - when it is full for breeding events involving tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of birds. With such events happening only once in about 30 years, it is surmised that it is the old wise birds that tell all others when and where to go when the time has come. Recently Lake Eyre has been full in two consecutive years, 2010 (with the Cooper Creek reaching the lake for the first time since 1990) and 2011. Other major floods occurred in 1886/1887, 1889/1890, 1916/1917, 1950, 1955, and 1974-1976.

Food, Diet

Adults: Fish Dependents: Regurgitated fish Water intake: Irregular; rain water

Like all other members of the Pelecanus family, Australian Pelicans feed on fish. We have seen them hunt in packs, trapping fish pushing forward in a semi-circular formation.

Australian Pelican with its catch; in order to keep it, this bird had to fend off attempts to steal it from various of its mates (photo courtesy of J. Ross-Taylor)
[Tweed River, Tweed Heads, NSW, December 2014]

This Australian Pelican has caught a fair-size fish (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)
[Moree, NSW, August 2013]

This photo demonstrates the typical hunting strategy of Australian Pelicans, rounding up fish by encircling them
[Goran Lake, NSW, August 2011]

This group of Australian Pelicans flew in to join the others shown in the photo above
[Goran Lake, NSW, August 2011]

Two Australian Pelicans hunting in a shallow lake
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2012]


For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

austpel_20160725.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact call © MD

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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