Peruvian Pelican Pelecanus thagus


Justification of Red List Category
Although the population of this species is now stable or perhaps even increasing, it is likely to still be recovering after dramatic declines in the El Niño year of 1998. It could suffer similar declines in the future if conditions were repeated, for these reasons it is classified as Near Threatened.

Population justification
The most recent population estimate places it at 100,000-1,000,000 individuals.

Trend justification
It is likely to have been as badly affected by the El Niño event of 1998 as other Humboldt Current species such as Inca Tern Larosterna inca, and although the population is thought to be increasing (Delany and Scott 2006), declines over 36 years (three generations) are thought to have been in the region of 10-19%.

Distribution and population

This species is restricted to the coast of central Peru and Chile. A new register at Isla Foca (Northern Peru) extends its breeding range  (Figueroa and Stucchi 2011). Although the population may currently exceed 500,000 mature individuals (del Hoyo et al. 1992), this is a fraction of former numbers and numbers fluctuate greatly in association with El Niño Southern Oscillation, and with numbers of schooling anchoveta Engraulis ringens.


It breeds in large colonies on rocky coasts, feeding on small schooling fish in shallow offshore waters along the coast (del Hoyo et al. 1992).


During El Niño events, the species normally deserts its breeding grounds, causing total mortality of eggs and chicks, and undertakes extensive southward movements in search of food and better environmental conditions (Murphy 1925, Tovar et al. 1987 and Duffy 1990 in Jeyasingham et al. 2013). A meta-analysis of past El Niño events affecting Peruvian guano birds revealed average population declines of 17%, and 35% desertion of nesting areas (Duffy 1983). During the less frequent but more severe events (recognisable at c. 12-year intervals), mean population declines of 47% were recorded along with complete nesting failure (Duffy 1983).

Large-scale harvesting of aquatic resources have caused dramatic declines in abundance in the past by limiting prey availability, especially due to competition with the fishery for anchovies (Jahncke et al. 2004). Bycatch of pelicans by small-scale subsistence fishermen is an ongoing threat, but only affects a minority of the population and has negligible effects on its abundance (Jahncke et al. 2001).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
None is known.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey to assess population size. Regularly monitor at certain sites throughout its range to determine population trends, particularly after El Niño years. Restrict access to important breeding colonies. Study the interactions between this species and the fisheries.


Identification. Average weight 7 kg; length 1.5 m. Dark in colour with a white stripe from the top of the bill to the crown and down the sides of the neck; pale upperwings; dark brown patch on humerals; long tufted feathers on head; facial skin dark with restricted pink around the eye; reddish bill tip; bill base yellow; blue striped gular pouch that is brighter during its breeding season. Similar species. Used to be considered a subspecies of Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis but differs in its larger size and greater length.


Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Mahood, S., Frere, E., Ekstrom, J., Moreno, R., Sharpe, C.J., Martin, R., Fjagesund, T.

Simeone, A., Monteiro, A., Zavalaga, C., Jaramillo, A., Garcia-Godos, I.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Pelecanus thagus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/03/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/03/2023.