Pelican Flying | How Fast Does A Pelican Fly?

Pelicans are famous for their enormous bill, giant webbed feet, and long and broad wingspan. It is always a spectacular view when we see pelicans fly close to the water on the shore.

There is always something fascinating and complex about the flying habits of aerial wildlife. Pelicans may fly over flat water surfaces or between waves breaking toward a beach, and sometimes they fly at high altitudes.

Why do they fly high in the sky? Why do they fly close to the water? What is the wingspan of pelicans? Let’s dive into the most interesting topic of a pelican flying facts and the concept of physics behind their splendid flier.

Can pelicans fly?

Yes, pelicans can fly and soar high in the sky like eagles with their giant and lengthy wings. Although pelicans are heavy and enormous birds, they easily take their flights because of air sacs in their bones, which allow them to reach high altitudes.

Pelicans can fly and soar up to the height of 10,000 feet when they glide on warm air currents. Their webbed feet help them to take dives and swim easily whenever they spot their prey from the sky. 

They can identify their potential prey from any high altitude and accelerate their speed towards it and hunt it with great accuracy.

How do pelicans fly?

Despite being highly mobile, pelicans are very active in search of food along the sides of water bodies. The pelicans are known for their aerial grace to their lengthy wings, which are in a design similar to vultures.

In a minute, these bulky birds can glide effortlessly above hundred feet from the ground, defying the laws of aerodynamics.

Pelicans have oversized wingspan, and ride the air wave in an upward direction to become aerodynamic like a plane, using a phenomenon called the “ground effect”.

When a bird flies close to water, an air cushion (funneled) forms between the bird’s wingspan and the atmospheric surface, which reduces the pull from water and allows birds to fly further at the same surface for more miles at a faster speed.

How fast does a pelican fly?

Due to the ground effect, pelicans can travel long distances with minimum energy and effort in the air speed of up to 56 km/hr.

Pelicans are splendid fliers and excellent soarers, who can use thermals to reach certain altitudes. It is not possible for pelicans to sustain flapping flight in the sky, but they can remain in the atmosphere for 24 hours and travel more than a thousand miles.

In common, pelicans reach up to the height of 1000m, but some records say they even rise to the height of 3000m at a time. 

Why do pelicans fly too low over the water? Why do they fly close to the water surface?

The pelicans fly close to water because they take the advantage of a physics concept known as the “ ground effect – aerodynamic phenomena” or sometimes they use “compression gliding”.

The ground effect comes into the picture when pelicans fly within their full wingspan of the atmospheric surface of the water. 

The airflow pattern changes around the wings that operate near the surface, and the efficiency increase(modifies the surface manners) reduces drag and the air resistance to the progress of the wingspan.

The modification of the surface manner is due to the relative length of the bird’s wings and these effects can be seen in the narrow and wide-winged birds like petrels, shearwaters, cormorants, albatrosses, and others.

The air is “funneled” between the lower surface of the bird’s wings and the upper surface of the water when pelicans glide over the water.

 In addition to the normal aerodynamic force at work, this effect compresses the air and functions like a cushion of dense air which supports pelicans aloft.

The ground effect becomes stronger when the birds near the water surface and are more efficient over flat water.

This aerodynamics effect is essential to aerial wildlife, which was observed and cooped by humans during World war II. Humans even use these effects during a plane landing. 

Be sure to pay close attention to the landing plane, and definitely, you can feel an unexpected buoyancy before it touches the ground.

Why do they fly high in the sky?

Pelicans are one of the champion soaring birds we observe near shore. This bulky bird also takes advantage of heavy wave action and winds to fly at high altitudes by a flying strategy called dynamic soaring.

Often pelicans prefer to take soaring flights and the height they fly is related to the warm thermal current “updrafts”, which can be formed during the day, and the birds’ flight biomechanics.

Pelicans take soaring and gliding flights to cover long miles within their coastal range and also to flap their wings to gain wing speed and continue their glide.

Even though the large pelicans fly at high altitudes, the ground effect comes into action at a time when they want to land.

For pelicans, the ground effect helps them to slow down and aloft on the surface until their feet touch the land.

Do pelicans fly in groups? Do pelicans fly in formation? If so, why?

Like many other soaring birds, pelicans often use V-formation when it flies in a flock. During V-formation flight, an updraft is created by one bird’s large wings upstroke, and the following birds use this wingtip vortex to conserve significant energy.

Some studies proved that birds had difficulty staying in the formation group when they fly at the rear. 

By adjusting their position regularly, pelicans achieve a significant amount of energy savings. In these fling formations, pelicans flap their wings less frequently and glide for long miles.

What is a Pelican bird’s wingspan? Which pelican species has the largest wingspan? 

Pelicans have short and square tails, but they have long, narrow and broad wings that make them suitable for gliding on warm air currents.

Pelicans are considerably larger than Bald Eagle and have a wingspan between 1.8 m to 3.5 m (up to 11 feet approx). The white pelicans have wingspan up to 1.3 to 1.6 m.

The largest wingspan species among pelican bird groups is Dalmatian Pelicans, which have a wingspan up to 11.5 – 12 feet. That looks exactly like a small plane.

Flying Characteristics of pelicans species;

Brown pelicans 

The adult Brown Pelicans have wings spread up to 80-85 inches (almost 7 feet) and weigh around 10 lbs. These birds are soaring championship birds and effectively save their energy in the v-formation flying. They considerably require less food and less time feeding.

Brown species are the smallest birds among the Pelecanidae family and can fly at the speed of 30 mph (48 kph).

White pelicans

White Pelicans are like Turkey Vultures, they rise due to the thermals ( cushion air) and also ponderously wheel and circle in unison.

They are the largest bird species in North America and have a wingspan of around 9 feet. Their appearance looks similar to the Brown Pelicans, but they have different habits. 

Despite their size and spectacular filer, they often take flight with flocks and soar in the air very often. They can skilfully travel for more than 15 miles, without flapping their great wings.

Some interesting pelican flying facts:

  • The heavy Pelicans birds can easily take flights up to the height of 10,000 feet due to their air sacs in the bones and glide on warm air currents.
  • Normally, pelicans can fly at a speed of 30 mph.
  • They glide and float close to the upper surface of the water due to the law of aerodynamic phenomena – the “ground effect”.
  • They soar high in altitudes with flocks in V-formation and conserve their flying energy.
  • They have wingspan between 1.8 m to 3.5 m.
  • Brown species are the smallest bird among the Pelecanidae family and can fly at the speed of 30 mph (48 kph).
  • White pelicans are the largest bird in North America and have a wingspan of around 9 foot
Intro Video - Backtobirds
Intro Video - Backtobirds