Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis


Justification of Red List Category
This species has declined at a moderately rapid rate owing to a number of threats. For this reason the species is classified as Near Threatened.

Population justification
S. Subramanya (in litt. 2006) has suggested that the population in South India now exceeds 5,000 birds owing to increases resulting from improved protection of the species, and the latest figures from Andhra Pradesh and Telangara suggest that there are >10,000 individuals in those states alone (H. Taher in litt. 2016). The global population is currently placed in the range 13,000-18,000 individuals globally, roughly equivalent to 8,700-12,000 mature individuals, though this may require revising upwards in the future.

Trend justification
The species declined rapidly during the 20th century, but in recent years the population appears to have stabilised, with at least some populations apparently now increasing in response to improved protection (P. Round in litt. 2006, S. Subramanya in litt. 2006, 2016, H. Taher in litt. 2016). The global population is suspected to have undergone a moderately rapid decline over the last three generations.

Distribution and population

Pelecanus philippensis was formerly common across much of Asia, but suffered a widespread decline (BirdLife International 2001). However, owing to protection and increased knowledge its estimated population has been revised upwards from a low of 5,500-10,000 birds in 2002 to an estimated 13,000-18,000 individuals in 2006. Known breeding populations are now confined to India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, and potentially also Thailand (W. Limparungpatthanakij in litt. 2016). The Indian population is thought to exceed 5,000 birds in the south owing to increases resulting from improved protection of the species (S. Subramanya in litt. 2006), plus c.3,000 in Assam (Choudhury 2000). In southern India there are 21 known breeding colonies in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (Subramanya 2006). One of these at Kokkare Bellur, Karnataka, has doubled in size in recent years (Subramanya 2006), and recent surveys in southern India have located more pairs than were previously estimated for the state (Gokula 2011, Anon. 2012). However, another at Uppalapadu has declined from a historical high of 12,000 individuals, with only 1,500 observed in a recent count, though a more recent estimate is 4,000 individuals (S. Subramanya in litt. 2016). The site is however threatened by human encroachment (M. Akhtar in litt. 2008), and despite recent increases this site showed population declines in 2016 (H. Taher in litt. 2016). The traditional breeding site at Kolleru has become operational again, though there was a decline noted there in 2016 (H. Taher in litt. 2016), and with the provision of nesting towers a new breeding site has become established in the Kolleru region (H. Taher in litt. 2016). In Sri Lanka, c.5,000 birds were thought to breed, possibly overlapping with the southern Indian populations (S. W. Kotagama in litt. 2001). However, recent evidence from Sri Lanka suggests a breeding population of fewer than 1,000 pairs, with counts from the three known colonies totalling just 400 pairs (C. Kaluthota in litt. 2006). In South-East Asia, an estimated 1,083 nests were at Prek Toal on the Tonle Sap lake in 2014, the highest reported there ever, though 2013 had the lowest number of nest records at 803 (Visal and Mahood 2015). It probably breeds in small numbers on Sumatra, Indonesia, but probably no longer in Myanmar (G. Chunkino in litt. 2006, Weerakoon and Athukorala 2007). There are recent records of migrants in Nepal, Laos and Vietnam, but it no longer occurs in the Philippines and China. Numbers recorded in Thailand have increased in recent years (P. Round in litt. 2006). This is thought to be as a result of improved protection of the nesting colonies in Cambodia. A juvenile, presumably a vagrant, individual has recently been recorded on Amami-Oshima Island, Japan (Hisahiro et al. 2010).


It inhabits a variety of deep and shallow wetlands, both man-made and natural, freshwater and saline, open and forested. It breeds colonially in Acacia bushes (S. Subramanya in litt. 2016, H. Taher in litt. 2016), tall trees or palms and feeds in open water, primarily on fish. Some populations appear to be sedentary. With the provision of nesting towers, the species does appear to make use of these for breeding (H. Taher in litt. 2016).


A crucial factor in its decline was the loss of the Sittang valley breeding colony in Myanmar through deforestation and loss of feeding-sites. Key threats are a combination of human disturbance at breeding colonies and wetlands, extensive felling of nesting trees (such as partially submerged Acacia [S. Subramanya in litt. 2016]) (see also Taher 2007), the impact of invasive plants on the species's wetland habitat, hunting (Talukdar 1996) and poaching of eggs and chicks. Additional threats include the loss of important feeding-sites through siltation, agricultural intensification, aquaculture development, building of power stations, drainage and conversion of wetlands, declines in wetland productivity as a result of pesticide use, persecution by fishermen and over-exploitation of fisheries (Talukdar 1996, Chandrasekhar 2009). There is some persecution resulting from competition between the birds and fishers. A potential but as yet unqualified threat is posed by avian influenza (P. Round in litt. 2006).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
In India, several key breeding colonies are in protected areas and some local communities have pelican conservation initiatives. In Cambodia, the breeding colonies at Prek Toal and Moat Khla/Boeng Chhma are core areas of Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve. Conservation actions to reduce chick and egg collection and other forms of disturbance to the breeding colony at Prek Toal have been in place since the late 1990s. Eight out of 15 nesting sites in Tamil Nadu are protected. An awareness programme has been initiated in Sri Lanka as part of a project funded by the Conservation Leadership Programme. This has also set up research stations concerned with improving knowledge of the species (Weerakoon and Athukorala 2007). The provision of nesting towers has led to the founding of a new breeding site in the Kolleru area (H. Taher in litt. 2016).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Identify and survey colonies in Cambodia and any remaining in Myanmar and Thailand. Afford strict protection to important nesting colonies and key feeding-sites. Promote strict control of pesticide use in important feeding areas. Continue and strengthen on-going conservation actions at the Prek Toal colony, Tonle Sap lake. Draft and enforce new legislation pertaining to large waterbird colony conservation around Tonle Sap lake. Expand conservation awareness programmes at key sites. Monitor the population for signs of avian influenza. Investigate post-breeding dispersal, potentially using satellite tagging (S. Subramanya in litt. 2016).


127-140 cm. Small, dull, pelican with spotted bill and pouch. Dusky, tufted hindcrown and hindneck, bluish lores, mostly pinkish upper mandible, and pale flight feathers from below. Similar spp. Dalmatian Pelican P. crispus is larger, brighter white with orange pouch and bushy, curly crest. Juvenile Great White Pelican P. onocrotalus is larger with darker head, neck and upperparts, paler lores and blackish flight feathers.


Text account compilers
Allinson, T, Westrip, J., Pilgrim, J., Davidson, P., Bird, J., Benstead, P., Taylor, J., Tobias, J., Mahood, S., Butchart, S., Peet, N., Khwaja, N.

Mahood, S., Li, Z., Subramanya, S., Chunkino, G., Taher, H., Kaluthota, C., Limparungpatthanakij, W., Clements, T., Round, P., Kotagama, S., Chan, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Pelecanus philippensis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 04/12/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 04/12/2022.