Watch Hundreds of Dive-Bombing Pelicans Ignite an Intense Feeding Frenzy

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Updated: October 23, 2023
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Pelicans primarily consume fish, but they also devour other birds, amphibians, crabs, and turtles. Anything’s fair game if it can go down their throats. A fish moving beneath the ocean’s surface can be seen by the brown pelican even when it is 60 feet above the water. 

The Peruvian pelican, its larger cousin, has excellent vision as well. When a target is detected from above, pelicans rapidly dive bill-first into the water, frequently from a height of several floors. The impact force of their collision with the prey typically shocks the victim, who is subsequently taken in the pelican’s mouth.

Watch the Video! 

What is a Pelican?

The Pelican is one of the biggest birds on the planet! With the exception of Antarctica, they are present on all continents. Depending on the species, they have an average life span of 10 to 30 years in the wild.

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They stay in temperate and tropical regions because they favor warmer climates and avoid cold climates. Surprisingly, they have a neck sac that can easily carry three gallons of water.

These birds come in a total of eight distinct species.  “Pelecanus” is the scientific name for them. They possess lengthy bills with hooks at the end. Their distinctive feature is a huge pouch of skin that hangs from their bills. 

The purpose of these pouches is to remove fish from the water. The terms “gular pouch” and “gular sac” are other names for these throat pouches. 

Designed for Hunting

These birds have a variety of characteristics that prevent self-injury when they crash into the surface of the water.  Pelicans are able to prevent breaking any of the bones in their limbs on the merciless waves by flinging their wings completely backward and stiffening the muscles around their neck vertebrae as they dive. 

Pelican pouch

A close-up of a pelican with a fish in its pouch.


The minute a bird’s jaws are pushed open beneath the water, its forward momentum is reduced. This happens because air sacs underneath the skin surrounding the neck and breast area expand prior to the bird hitting the surface of the water and the gular pouch acts like an airbag. 

Do Pelicans Hunt Alone?

The majority of pelicans gather up their meal by walking along the water’s surface rather than diving over it. The birds periodically create hunting parties to boost their likelihood of succeeding. 

They form a U-shape and flap their wings on the water’s surface to push fish into the shallows or herd them into a close group. We’ve included a shocking video below that shows an overwhelmingly large group of pelicans feasting in one area. 

The photo featured at the top of this post is © mark smith nsb/

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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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