Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus


Justification of Red List category
Conservation measures have resulted in a population increase in Europe, particularly at the species's largest colony (Lake Mikri Prespa in Greece), but also in other countries, following implementation of conservation actions, and it has therefore been downlisted from Vulnerable. The potential remains for the species to undergo large declines in the future, given ongoing threats in much of the range, and the continued conservation-dependence of European colonies  As such, it is precautionarily suspected that this species could undergo moderately rapid declines in the next three generations, and it is listed as Near Threatened.

Population justification
The population was previously estimated to number 4,350-4,800 individuals in the Black Sea and Mediterranean; 6,000-9,000 individuals in South-East Asia and south Asia, and 50 individuals in east Asia (Simba Chan in litt. 2005), totalling 10,000-13,900 individuals, which roughly equates to 6,700-9,300 mature individuals.

Catsadorakis and Portolou (2017) have since reviewed the global population of the species, and have calculated a revised estimate of the global population size at a minimum of 5,693-6,694 breeding pairs, and potentially as high as 7,342-8,984 pairs (G. Catsadorakis in litt. 2017). Taking the estimate from Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017 and converting to mature individuals produces a revised population estimate of 11,386-13,388, rounded here to 11,400-13,400 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Of the nine countries where the species breeds regularly, four populations are fluctuating (Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Montenegro), three are increasing (Greece, Turkey and Albania) and one is stable (Romania) (Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017), with indications that the populations in Russia and Montenegro may be increasing too (G. Catsadorakis in litt. 2017). Based on the available data, the species is also thought to have increased overall in Kazakhstan over the last decade (A. Zhatkanbayev in litt. to Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017). Given this data, it is therefore plausible that the species has actually increased over the past 3 generations (33 years), and in the European Red List the species was listed as Least Concern at regional scale because of such increases (BirdLife International 2015). There are still population declines being reported for some countries, particularly those outside of Europe (Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, parts of Kazakhstan and Iran), but the data suggests that overall these have been outweighed by the increases elsewhere.

However, there remains some doubt about the current overall size and trend of the breeding population in Kazakhstan, which potentially contains 29-47% of the global population and where a number of threats remain active (Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017). Additionally, the species in south-east Europe is entirely management-dependent and so the removal of conservation measures could lead to future population declines (G. Catsadorakis in litt. 2017). Therefore, there is the potential for large declines in the future (though not necessarily >30% of the global population over 3 generations), even though the evidence suggests that the species has not globally declined in the recent past. As such, it is precautionarily suspected that this species could undergo moderately rapid declines in the next three generations.

Distribution and population

This species breeds in eastern Europe and east-central Asia, in Montenegro, Albania, Armenia, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, GeorgiaRussia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Ukraine, Mongolia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (Crivelli 1996, BirdLife International 2015). European breeders winter in the eastern Mediterranean countries, Russian and central Asian breeders in Iran, Iraq and the Indian subcontinent, and Mongolian birds along the east coast of China (Mix and Bräunlich 2000), including Hong Kong (China). Following massive declines during the 19th and 20th centuries, numbers stabilised between 10,000-20,000 individuals (including c.4,000-5,000 breeding pairs; Hatzilacou 1993) and several colonies have since increased, including at the species's largest colony, at Lake Mikri Prespa in Greece, as well as in Albania, Montenegro, European Russia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey (Crivelli et al. 1997, A. Crivelli in litt. 2003, Onmus et al. 2011, S. Bugariu in litt. 2012, BirdLife International 2015, Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017).

The largest current populations are believed to be in Kazakhstan (3,000-3,200 pairs), Russia (1,500-2,700 pairs) and Greece (1,900 pairs) (Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017). The largest colony, at Lake Mikri Prespa, Greece, numbers c.1,400 breeding pairs (M. Malakou in litt. 2009) and there are around 450 pairs in the Danube Delta (S. Bugariu in litt. 2007). The total European population is estimated at 3,000-3,600 pairs (BirdLife International 2015). The Mongolian population continues to decline and is almost extinct (S. Chan in litt. 2003.


Behaviour This species is dispersive in Europe, and migratory in Asia (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It starts to breed in late March or April (del Hoyo et al. 1992), sometimes solitarily but usually in dense colonies of up to 250 pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1992; Cramp et al. 1977). Adults form monogamous pair bonds (Mix and Bräunlich 2000). It departs from the colonies between the end of July and September, although a few remain until November (Nelson 2005). It is gregarious during the winter, often occurring in large flocks and foraging communally and cooperatively in small groups (Cramp et al. 1977), although occasionally singly (Cramp et al. 1977). The birds return to their breeding sites in late-January to April, depending on the region (Nelson 2005). Immature birds and non-breeders may remain in the wintering grounds year round (Nelson 2005), or may stay with the breeding colonies (Cramp et al. 1977). They are often nomadic, especially in the Caspian Sea (Nelson 2005).

It occurs mainly at inland, freshwater wetlands but also at coastal lagoons, river deltas and estuaries (Crivelli et al. 1997; Mix and Bräunlich 2000; Peja et al. 1996; del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding It breeds on small islands in freshwater lakes (del Hoyo et al. 1992) or in dense aquatic vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1992) such as reedbeds of Typha and Phragmites (Crivelli 1994; Peja et al. 1996; Pyrovetsi 1997; del Hoyo et al. 1992), often in hilly terrain (Nelson 2005). A few breed in Mediterranean coastal lagoons (Peja et al. 1996; Nelson 2005). The species makes use of habitats surrounding its breeding sites, including nearby islands and wetlands (Nelson 2005). Non-breeding On migration, large lakes form important stop-over sites (Nelson 2005). It typically winters on jheels and lagoons in India, and ice-free lakes in Europe (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It sometimes fishes inshore along sheltered coasts (del Hoyo et al. 1992).

It feeds almost entirely on fish, especially carp Cyprinus carpio, perch Perca fluviatilis, rudd scardinius erythrophthalmus, roach Rutilus rutilus, and pike Esox lucius in freshwater wetlands (del Hoyo et al. 1992), and eels, mullet, gobies and shrimps in brackish waters (Crivelli 1994; Peja et al. 1996). In its winter quarters on the Nile it takes mostly Siluridae (Nelson 2005). In the Mikri Prespa breeding colony in Greece it feeds predominantly on the endemic fish species Chalcalburnus belvica (Pyrovetsi and Economidis (1998).

Breeding site
Most nests are situated amongst aquatic vegetation on floating or stationary islands isolated from the mainland to avoid mammalian predators (Crivelli 1994; Peja et al. 1996; Pyrovetsi 1997) . They are occasionally built on open ground (Hatzilacou 1993; Hatzilacou 1999; Nelson 2005). Nests usually consist of a pile of reeds, grass and sticks approximately 1m high and 0.5-1.5m in diameter (del Hoyo et al. 1992; Nelson 2005). It often tramples the vegetation between nests, and does not tend to nest in areas where such activities would generate deep mud (Nelson 2005). The trampling activity damages the islands and therefore limits the number of years for which an island can be used for breeding (Catsadorakis and Crivelli 2001). On average sites in Greece were found to be used for three years in succession (Catsadorakis and Crivelli 2001). Artificial islands have proved successful as breeding sites in the past (Pyrovetsi 1997) and also in recent years (e.g. since 2008 in Romania [S. Bugariu in litt. 2012]).


Former declines were primarily caused by wetland drainage, shooting and persecution by fishers (Crivelli 1994, Crivelli et al. 1997, Mix and Bräunlich 2000). Cases of illegal shooting are still reported (e.g. four shootings in 2009 in the Danube Delta; B. Barov in litt. 2009) and hunting is considered one of the main threats for the east Asian population (Shi et al. 2008, Yat-tung Yu and Chen Zhihong 2008). Other continuing threats include disturbance from tourists and fishers, wetland alteration and destruction, water pollution, collision with overhead power-lines and over-exploitation of fish stocks (Crivelli et al. 1999, Hatzilacou 1993, Mix and Bräunlich 2000). Organochloride residues including DDT have been recorded in high levels in the eggs of this species and those of its prey (Albanis et al. 1995). Hunting by herders (for traditional use of the bill) continues to threaten the Mongolian population (Mix and Bräunlich 2000). Nest predation by wild boar at times of low water levels is the most important threat to the Bulgarian breeding colony (N. Petkov in litt. 2007). The breeding colonies in Mediterranean lagoons in Albania and Turkey are threatened by coastal developments and the alteration of the functioning of the lagoons (Peja et al. 1996). In March 2015 avian flu (H5N1 virus) killed at least 45 adult Dalmatian Pelicans in the breeding colony at Srebarna Biosphere Reserve, Bulgaria (P. Simeonov in litt. 2017).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. CMS Appendix I and II. EU Birds Directive Annex I. Bern Convention Appendix II. Conservation efforts have reduced the impact of the major threats in Europe (Crivelli et al. 1997). Marking and dismantling of power-lines (Crivelli et al. 1997), the provision of breeding platforms in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania and rafts in Greece and Bulgaria, together with wardening (Hatzilacou 1999), water level management and education programmes at key sites, have reduced mortality and increased breeding success. A European action plan was published in 1996 (S. Bugariu in litt. 2007) and reviewed in 2010 (Barov and Derhé 2011). The action plan will be updated as part of the Euro SAP project funded by the EU (Ieronymidou 2015). A national species action plan for Romania was officially approved in 2009 (S. Bugariu in litt. 2012). 

Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor breeding, wintering numbers and ecological changes at key sites. Survey potential wintering grounds in central and east Asia. Sustainably manage wetlands. Establish wardened non-intrusion zones around breeding colonies. Bury power-lines or replace with more visible cable. Seek alternatives to traditional use of pelican bills in Mongolia (Hatzilacou 1999). Legally protect the species and its habitat in range states. Conduct public awareness campaigns and mediate potential conflicts with fishermen. Prevent poaching and overexploitation of fish.


160-180 cm. Huge, whitish waterbird. Silvery-white breeding plumage. Yellow to purple bare skin around eyes. Orange-red gular pouch at onset of breeding becoming yellow later. Pale grey underwing becoming darker at wing-tips. Bushy crest on nape. Similar spp. White Pelican P. onocrotalus is slightly smaller, has pinkish-white plumage and a yellow gular pouch, more extensive bare skin around eye, downward hanging crest, pink legs and all-dark flight feathers. Voice Barking, hissing and grunting calls at colonies.


Text account compilers
Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Westrip, J., Derhé, M., Malpas, L., Capper, D., Benstead, P., Peet, N., Ashpole, J

Bugariu, S., Chan, S., Crivelli, A., Pfister, O., Barov, B., Petkov, N., Mersini, K., Johnston, G., Vizi, A., Bhujabal, M., Nagy, S., Simeonov, P., Cavalieri, R. & Catsadorakis, G.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Pelecanus crispus. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/dalmatian-pelican-pelecanus-crispus on 23/09/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 23/09/2023.