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Pelicans and Other Fishing Birds: Pelecaniformes

Conservation Status

About one-third of the Pelecaniformes birds are under some kind of threat. Four species are listed as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction, or Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction. The problems the birds face include polluted water and loss of habitat for nesting. People have over-fished some parts of the ocean, leaving too few fish for the birds. Some people kill the birds that eat the fish they want for themselves. Some birds have naturally small populations, such as those that live on a few small islands and nowhere else. These birds can be wiped out by animals that are brought to the islands. For example, rabbits brought to some islands eat the plants that the birds need to shade their nests. That means fewer birds are able to raise young.

But there is good news, too. Birds in this group are being helped by people all over the world. In North America, the brown pelican was listed as endangered because of poisonous chemicals, such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) that got into their water. When people realized they were harming the birds, the poisons were outlawed. Now the pelicans have made a good comeback and are no longer listed as endangered in some parts of the United States.


Seabirds have many special body parts that help them live on the ocean. Their webbed feet are perfect for swimming. They have air sacs under their skin that make for a soft landing when they plunge into the water. Their long wings help them soar above the waves, and their eyes are good for seeing prey underwater. They have glands that get rid of extra salt, and other glands that supply them with oil to make their feathers waterproof. Seabirds have one more important feature, bills that are designed for grabbing slippery fish.



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de Roy, Tui. "To Swim with Pelicans." International Wildlife (January– February 1995): 4–11.

McGrath, Susan. "Shoot-Out at Little Galloo: Angry Fishermen Accuse the Cormorant of Ruining Their Livelihood." Smithsonian (February 2003): 72–78.

Miller, Claire. "Super Scoopers." (pelicans) Ranger Rick (July 1999): 6–12.

Milner, Richard. "Spray It Again." (pelican behavior) Natural History (July 2001): 80–82.

Morgan, S. M., M. A. Ashley-Ross, and D. J. Anderson. "Incubation in Masked Boobies." American Zoologist (December 2000): 1139.

Weimerkirch, Henri, Olivier Chastel, Christophe Barbraud, and Olivier Tostain. "Frigatebirds Ride High on Thermals."Nature (January 23, 2003): 333–334.

Web sites:

The Ocean Conservancy. http://www.oceanconservancy.org (accessed on July 14, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsPelicans and Other Fishing Birds: Pelecaniformes - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Pelecaniformes And People, Conservation Status - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT