Great white pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus, photographed by Hamed Saber.

Belongs within: Aequornithia.

The Pelecanidae includes the pelicans, distinctive large fishing birds with elongate bills subtended by an expansive gular pouch. Pelicans use this pouch to scoop up water containing fish, straining it out and then swallowing their prey.

All living species of pelican are included in the genus Pelecanus. The brown pelican P. occidentalis and Peruvian pelican P. thagus of the Americas are dark in coloration and capture prey by plunge-diving for prey. The remaining species are mostly white or grey and usually catch fish while swimming on the water’s surface. The Australian pelican P. conspicillatus is extensively black on the wings, rump and tail. The American white pelican P. erythrorhynchos develops a laterally flattened horn on the upper surface of the bill during the breeding season that is shed after mating.

The fossil species Liptornis hesternus was assigned to Pelecanidae by Ameghino (1994) on the basis of a cervical vertebra from the Middle Miocene of Patagonia but its affinities are currently regarded as uncertain.

<==Pelecanidae [Pelecanida, Pelecanoidea, Pelicanea, Pelicanidae]
    |--Liptornis Ameghino 1894A94
    |    `--*L. hesternus Ameghino 1894A94
    `--Pelecanus Linnaeus 1758CC10 [incl. Catoptropelecanus Reichenbach 1853CC10, Miopelecanus Cheneval 1984M02]
         |  i. s.: P. fuscusJ23
         |         P. gracilis Milne-Edwards 1863M11, M02 [=*Miopelecanus gracilisM02]
         |         P. intermedius Fraas 1870 [=Miopelecanus intermedius; incl. P. fraasi Lydekker 1891]M02
         |         P. odessanus Vidgal’m 1886M02
         |         P. philippensisJT12 [incl. P. roseus Gmelin 1789CS77, P. onocrotalus roseusRN72]
         |         P. rufescens Gmelin 1789CS77
         |         P. thagusJT12
         |--P. conspicillatus Temminck 1824BKB15, CC10 (see below for synonymy)
         `--+--P. occidentalisBKB15
            |    |--P. o. occidentalisE52
            |    `--P. o. carolinensisE52
            `--+--P. erythrorhynchosBKB15
               `--+--*P. onocrotalus Linnaeus 1758CC10, BKB15, S05 [incl. P. minor Rüppell 1837 non Gmelin 1789S05]
                  `--P. crispus Bruch 1832BKB15, CS77

Pelecanus conspicillatus Temminck 1824BKB15, CC10 [=Catoptropelecanus conspicillatusCC10; incl. P. australis Stephens in Shaw 1826CC10, P. conspicillatus novaezealandiae Scarlett 1966CC10, *Catoptropelecanus perspicillatus Reichenbach 1853CC10, P. proavus De Vis 1892CC10, P. spectabilis Salvado 1851WS48, P. conspicillatus westralis Mathews 1912CC10]

*Type species of generic name indicated


[A94] Ameghino, F. 1894. Sur les oiseaux fossiles de Patagonie et la aune mammalogique des couches a Pyrotherium. Boletín del Instituto Geográfico Argentino 15 (11–12): 501–602.

[BKB15] Burleigh, J. G., R. T. Kimball & E. L. Braun. 2015. Building the avian tree of life using a large-scale, sparse supermatrix. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 84: 53–63.

[CC10] Checklist Committee (OSNZ). 2010. Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand, Norfolk and Macquarie Islands, and the Ross Dependency, Antarctica 4th ed. Ornithological Society of New Zealand and Te Papa Press: Wellington.

[CS77] Cramp, S., & K. E. L. Simmons (eds) 1977. Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa: The Birds of the Western Palaearctic vol. 1. Ostrich to Ducks. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

[E52] Eisenmann, E. 1952. Annotated list of birds of Barro Colorado Island, Panama Canal Zone. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 117 (5): 1–62.

[J23] James, E. 1823. Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, performed in the years 1819 and ’20, by order of the Hon. J. C. Calhoun, sec’y of war: under the command of Major Stephen H. Long. From the notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and other gentlemen of the exploring party vol. 1. H. C. Carey & I. Lea: Philadelphia.

[JT12] Jetz, W., G. H. Thomas, J. B. Joy, K. Hartmann & A. Ø. Mooers. 2012. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature 491: 444–448.

[M11] Mayr, G. 2011. Cenozoic mystery birds—on the phylogenetic affinities of the bony-toothed birds (Pelagornithidae). Zoologica Scripta 40: 448–467.

[M02] Mlíkovský, J. 2002. Cenozoic Birds of the World. Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press: Praha.

[RN72] Rutgers, A., & K. A. Norris (eds) 1972. Encyclopaedia of Aviculture vol. 1. London, Blandford Press.

[S05] Steinheimer, F. D. 2005. Eduard Rüppel’s avian types at the Natural History Museum, Tring (Aves). Senckenbergiana Biologica 85 (2): 233–264.

[WS48] Whittell, H. M., & D. L. Serventy. 1948. A systematic list of the birds of Western Australia. Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of Western Australia, Special Publication 1: 1–126.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *