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Gregory R. Mann, Ph.D. {ret.}

Pink-backed Pelican

“Pelecanus rufescens”

As their name suggests, the Pink-backed Pelican have a pink back. Most of their feathers are gray-white, though their breast & abdomen is also pink in color. Young birds are brown, with a slight pinkish tinge. These pelicans feed mostly in the morning & evening. The name “pelican” comes from the Ancient Greek word pelekan (πελεκάν), which is itself derived from the word pelekys (πέλεκυς) meaning “axe”. Pink-backed Pelicans live in a wide range of watery habitats but seem to prefer quiet areas with slow-moving water and will breed throughout the year. They build nests of sticks in the trees, which are often so close together that the nests touch. Such tree colonies can contain 20 to 500 pairs. The females lay 1 to 3 eggs, but chick mortality is often high due to sibling aggression. They fledge after 84 days, but will continue to be fed by their parents for some time after this. Pairs will reuse nests from the previous year if they are in a good state of repair. The nest is a large heap of sticks, into which 2-3 large white eggs are laid. The chicks feed by plunging their heads deep into the adult’s pouch and taking the partially digested regurgitated fish. The Pink-backed Pelican is classified as Least Concern and does not qualify for a more at risk category. Widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category.

The Pink-backed Pelican is a member of the pelican family of birds. It is a resident breeder in Africa, southern Arabia and apparently is extinct in Madagascar in swamps & shallow lakes. The nest is a large heap of sticks, into which 2-3 large white eggs are laid. The chicks feed by plunging their heads deep into the adult’s pouch and taking the partially digested regurgitated fish. This is a small pelican, but the wingspan is still around 2.4 meters. Pink-backed Pelicans only eat fish. Large individuals can eat fish up to 400 grams in weight, but fish between 80-290 grams are more usual. They will eat 900-1,200 grams each day, including plenty of fish fry. They move around in groups, but hunt individually. This species has a very large distribution and so is classed as Least Concern. They are very tolerant of disturbance by humans and are not seen as competition by fishermen as they hunt alone. Tree loss is a serious threat as they require trees to nest in. Pollution from pesticides in rivers is causing a build up of toxins in the Pink-backed Pelican’s fish stocks. These toxins can make breeding more difficult and may become a problem in the near future.

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