All About Baby Pelicans: Appearance, Growth, and Survival

Baby Pelicans, scientifically known as Pelecanus, are fascinating avian creatures found across various countries worldwide. These adorable birds typically lay 1 to 3 eggs, with an incubation period of about 25 to 30 days. Baby Pelicans mainly feast on a diet of fish, occasionally supplemented with small crustaceans and amphibians. Their preferred habitats encompass coastal areas, islands, and wetlands, making them a common sight in these picturesque environments. Some species exhibit migratory behavior, while others opt for a sedentary lifestyle.

The baby pelicans’ body size, which can vary between 6 to 12 inches, and body weight, ranging from 1.5 to 4.5 pounds, can differ according to the species. While they are generally not considered dangerous, baby pelicans can display aggressiveness when provoked. These remarkable birds are capable of soaring to impressive heights, reaching up to 10,000 feet, a testament to their aerial prowess. With an average lifespan of 10 to 25 years, these resilient creatures are well-adapted to various weather conditions, typically thriving in temperate to tropical regions.

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Species Name Pelicans
Scientific NamePelecanus (varies by species)
CountryVarious, worldwide
Number of EggsUsually 1 to 3 eggs
Incubation Period for EggsApproximately 25 to 30 days
DietFish, sometimes small crustaceans and amphibians
HabitatCoastal areas, islands, and wetlands
MigrationSome species migrate, others are sedentary
Body Size LengthVaries by species (approx. 6 to 12 inches)
Body WeightVaries by species (approx. 1.5 to 4.5 pounds)
DangerousTypically not dangerous, but can be aggressive if provoked
Maximum Flight HeightUp to 10,000 feet (varies by species)
Lifespan (Average)10 to 25 years, depending on the species
WeatherAdapted to various weather conditions, usually found in temperate to tropical regions

The Appearance of Baby Pelicans

Baby pelicans are undeniably charming with their downy feathers, bulbous beaks, and endearing clumsiness. However, there are distinct differences in the appearance of baby pelicans among various species. Here’s a glimpse into the appearances of baby pelicans of different species:

Pelican SpeciesDescription
American White PelicansDistinguished by their pristine white plumage, pink bills, and feet.
Australian PelicansSport white and gray plumage with pale pink beaks and legs.
Brown PelicansYoung brown pelicans have a mix of brown and white feathers with dark bills.
Great White PelicansBabies showcase a blend of white and gray feathers with striking orange beaks.
Peruvian PelicansChicks boast dark grayish-brown plumage with distinctive white markings.
Spot-billed PelicansHatchlings feature fluffy white feathers with a noticeable spot on their beaks.

Birth and Growth of Baby Pelicans

After around 4-5 weeks of incubation, baby pelicans are born. They begin life as delicate hatchlings, and the species they belong to determines how they grow. Here’s a look at the development of various young pelican species:

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American White Pelicans

  • American white pelican chicks are born blind and featherless, gradually developing white feathers over a few weeks.

Australian Pelicans

  • These chicks are covered in a pale, grayish down upon hatching and develop their iconic white plumage with growth.

Brown Pelicans

  • Baby brown pelicans emerge from their eggs with some down, and their brown plumage gradually replaces the down as they mature.

Great White Pelicans

  •  They hatch with a layer of grayish down and transition to their majestic white plumage as they grow.

Peruvian Pelicans

  •  Peruvian pelican hatchlings have grayish-brown down and become recognizable with age.

Spot-billed Pelicans

  • Spot-billed pelican chicks have downy white feathers when they hatch, which are later replaced with their adult plumage.

Diet of Baby Pelicans

The food of baby pelicans is different from that of adult pelicans. its main source of food is fish that its parents had regurgitated. Here, we look at feeding practices and parental responsibilities:

The Feeding Process

The feeding process of baby pelicans is a fascinating display of parental care and resourcefulness. As hatchlings, these little fluff balls are entirely dependent on their parents for sustenance. The feeding ritual typically involves the following steps:

Pelican BehaviorDescription
Fish HuntingAdult pelicans use their beak pouches to catch fish during hunting expeditions.
Storage in PouchThey store the caught fish in their stretchable pouch.
RegurgitationParents regurgitate partially digested fish into the baby’s beak for easier consumption.
Feeding FrequencyRegular feeding for young pelicans, especially during early stages, to support rapid growth.
Parental RolesBoth male and female pelicans are involved in various parenting duties.
Incubation of EggsIncubate eggs before hatching to provide a safe and warm environment for chick development.
Coordinated FishingOne parent stays with the chicks, while the other catches fish, ensuring the young aren’t left unattended.
Regurgitation and FeedingBoth parents contribute to precise regurgitation to provide an adequate and balanced diet.
ProtectionParental pelicans protect chicks from threats, shielding them from predators and harsh weather.
Teaching to FishParents gradually teach young pelicans fishing techniques and provide guidance for proficient hunting.

Pelican Eggs and Babies: Complete Life Cycle

The life cycle of a young pelican is complicated. Understanding nesting habits, egg characteristics, incubation times, and the hatching process is essential.

Nesting Habits

  • Pelicans are adept nest builders, frequently establishing colonies in different places. 
  • Their nests are made of twigs, grass, and other materials to provide a cozy place for eggs and future babies.

Egg Characteristics

  • Pelican eggs are elongated and oval-shaped with sturdy shells.
  • Egg color varies among species, from creamy white to pinkish hues.
  • These eggs are relatively large compared to adult pelicans.

Egg Laying and Incubation

  • Female pelicans lay one to three eggs in prepared nests.
  • Both male and female pelicans share incubation duties, ensuring warmth and safety for proper embryo development.

  Incubation Period and Hatching

  • The incubation period for pelican eggs lasts around four to five weeks, with slight variations based on species and environmental conditions.
  • Parents diligently guard the eggs, regulating temperature by adjusting nest positions.

  Hatchling Appearance

  • Hatchlings have fluffy down feathers, which may be gray, brown, or white, differing by species.
  • Their beaks are shorter and straighter than the distinctive, curvaceous bills they develop with maturity.

Fun Facts

Pelican SpeciesThere are eight different species of pelicans. Baby pelicans are called “chicks” or “nestlings.”
Gular PouchAdult pelicans have a large gular pouch beneath their bills used for catching fish. Baby pelicans have smaller pouches.
Parental CareBaby pelicans are dependent on their parents for food and protection. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks.
Nesting SitesPelicans often nest in colonies, sometimes numbering in the thousands, on islands or remote coastal areas.
Hatching and GrowthPelican chicks hatch from eggs after an incubation period and are initially covered in soft-down feathers.
Learning to FlyBaby pelicans typically learn to fly when they are around 10-12 weeks old.
CommunicationPelicans use various vocalizations to communicate with each other. Chicks might make sounds to signal their parents for feeding.
DietChicks are fed regurgitated fish by their parents, which is easier for them to consume.
Pelican LifespanPelicans can live for several decades. Baby pelicans have a long life ahead of them if they survive their early vulnerable stages.
ConservationPelicans can face threats due to habitat loss, pollution, and other factors, and there are conservation efforts to protect them.

Why Don’t We See Baby Pelicans?

Due to their habits and surroundings, baby pelicans are frequently concealed from human view. It is essential to examine the causes of their rarity:

Nesting Habits

 It is challenging to watch baby pelican nests since they are frequently situated in inhospitable places, such as islands and coastal cliffs.

Camouflage and Vulnerability

Baby pelicans’ downy feathers act as camouflage, helping them to blend in with their environment while remaining undetectable to humans.

Because hatchlings are weak, their parents hide them effectively to shield them from predators, including people.

Limited Mobility

  • Baby pelicans have underdeveloped wings and lack the mobility of adults, staying close to their nests, reducing the chance of human encounters.

Parental Protection

  • Adult pelicans are highly protective of their young and shield them from potential threats, including humans, adding to their concealment.

Nesting Season Timing

  • Baby pelicans are most visible during breeding and nesting seasons, with reduced visibility at other times as they remain concealed within their nests.

Where Do Baby Pelicans Live?

Coastal Habitats

  • Fish are readily available for young pelicans in saltwater lagoons, estuaries, and sandy shorelines close to the coast.

Inland Wetlands

  • For young pelicans, marshes, swamps, and freshwater lakes provide a haven and a plethora of aquatic life.

Islands and Remote Shores

  •  Baby pelicans are shielded from human disturbances and terrestrial predators by isolated islands and distant shorelines.

Protected Reserves and Wildlife Sanctuaries

  •  Specialized conservation zones offer a safe habitat for the development of young pelicans.

Lakes and Rivers

  •  Some species of pelicans live in watery habitats where they have access to a variety of fish and aquatic life.

Man-Made Structures

  • In urban areas, young pelicans will occasionally simulate their preferred solitary habitats by adapting to piers and jetties.

Cliffs and Rocky Outcrops

  • Some pelican species build their nests on cliffs and rocky outcrops along coasts because they provide elevated vantage points from which to shield their young from predators on the ground.

How Long Are Baby Pelicans With Their Parents?

It’s crucial to comprehend how long newborn pelicans stay with their parents and the safety they receive:

Aspect of Parental CareDescription
Duration of Parental CareBaby pelicans typically spend 2 to 3 months with their parents, the exact duration varies by species.
Protection and SafetyAdult pelicans act as devoted guardians, protecting their young from potential risks including predators and human intervention.
Feeding and NourishmentParents regurgitate partially digested fish into the baby’s beak to provide a steady and nourishing meal.
Learning and DevelopmentUnder their parents’ guidance, baby pelicans acquire important life skills, including fishing and hunting.
Transition to IndependenceAs they grow, young pelicans become more self-sufficient, develop changing plumage, and practice flight and hunting skills under parental supervision.

Unique Traits and Adaptations of Baby Pelicans

Baby pelicans possess unique characteristics and adaptations that make them stand out in the avian world. Explore these intriguing attributes:

Downy Plumage

  • Baby pelicans are covered in soft, downy feathers for insulation and warmth, often gray, brown, or white.


  • Baby pelicans’ downy feathers act as camouflage, allowing them to blend in with their environment and fend off predators.

Distinctive Beaks

  • Baby pelicans have small, straight beaks at first, but they grow into the distinctively curved bills of adults, which are necessary for fish hunting.


  • Limited mobility, underdeveloped wings, and dependence on parents make baby pelicans vulnerable during their early days.

Adaptation to Water

  • Baby pelicans have webbed feet, ideal for their future in swimming and hunting fish.

Rapid Growth

  • Young pelicans grow quickly, developing from helpless hatchlings to independent juveniles prepared for their maiden flights.

Parental Care

  • Pelican parents provide a great deal of care and protection for their young, feeding, housing, and nursing them.

Transition to Independence

  • Baby pelicans undergo a tremendous modification in their life cycle as they move from being dependent chicks to independent hunters, learning to fly, fish, and survive on their own.


Baby pelicans have unusual features, extraordinary development, and crucial functions in their ecosystems, which serve as examples of the wonders of nature. We grow to appreciate these endearing species’ importance in the avian kingdom as we learn more about them. Let’s make sure to preserve and safeguard their habitats so that future generations can awe these amazing creatures.


How long do baby pelicans stay with their parents?

2 to 3 months.

What is the purpose of baby pelicans’ downy feathers?

Insulation and camouflage.

Do all baby pelican species have the same nesting habits?

Variations exist, but many prefer colonies on islands and remote shorelines.

How do baby pelicans transition to independence?

Gradual development of flight and hunting skills.

What role do parents play in feeding baby pelicans?

Regurgitating partially digested fish into the baby’s beak for nutrition.