See This Pelican Open Its Bill Like a Bucket to Catch a Flying Fish

Pelican Mouth
© Marysiek from Getty Images and DG-Studio/ via

Written by Sharon Parry

Published: December 4, 2023

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Filmed off the coast of Namibia, this unique footage gives us a slow-motion view of a pelican opening its huge bill and snagging a fish in midair. The ingenious bird tilts its head slightly to one side so that the drag of the air fills out the bill even further. This fish had no chance. Let’s take a look!

Watch the Incredible Catch Now

Where Do Great White Pelicans Normally Live?

Great white pelicans are a migratory bird. During the breeding season, they are found in Europe and central Asia as far west as Montenegro and south as Israel. They have also been known to breed in parts of Turkey. They are found mostly in Africa and parts of Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea when they are not breeding. You will spot them as far south as Cape Town in South Africa. They can also be seen in parts of India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran.

When it comes to habitat, they can be found near freshwater or saltwater. You will often spot them nesting near large rivers and shallow marshes. They can also be seen nesting in savannas and rainforests.

Great White Pelican Population: How Many Are Left in the World?

Great white or eastern white pelican, rosy pelican or white pelican

Pelicans normally forage for fish on the water.


Globally, the great white pelican population is classed as being of least concern. However, the Namibian Environmental Information Service explains that their numbers are threatened by fluctuating water levels, disturbance, and pollution. The fact that they have only a few mass breeding sites in the country makes them more vulnerable. The global population is estimated at 265,000-295,000 individuals, and the Namibian population is around 3,000 to 4,000 birds with just four known breeding sites. Some Namibian pelican populations are in decline.

What Do Great White Pelicans Normally Eat?

Great white pelicans live in large social colonies and typically forage in the early morning and evening. They can be seen foraging at night if there is a full moon. When looking for food, they usually swim in a V-shaped formation comprising up to 20 birds. The plan is to push all the fish inland and then scoop them up with their large bills. The water drains away, enabling them to swallow the fish. Sometimes, you see these pelicans fishing in the same spot as other bird species, including the great cormorant.

Fish make up the largest part of their diet. They are happy to eat various species, including the great barracuda, flat-head gray mullet, and the small spotted gruntor. They have also been known to eat cormorant eggs and other aquatic animals, such as squid and shrimp.

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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