Pelican Beak | Evolution, Adaptations, Structure, Functions & Complete Interesting Facts

With their enormous feet and enormous bills, pelicans are among the most remarkable birds on the entire planet.

Pelicans have been documented in fossil form for at least 30 million years when Oligocene strata in France yielded beak fragments that were strikingly identical to those of the present species.

The beaks of these birds remain a constant area of interest for individuals studying water birds. This article addresses a few related questions to the beaks of pelicans.

Pelican beak type | What type of beak does a pelican have?

Pelicans have huge beaks which have flexible throat pouches attached to them. As a result, they can scoop up a larger lot of fish while swimming.

Normally curled up, the pouch on the lower portion of the beak of the pelican can expand when the bird is fishing. Three gallons of water may be stored in a pelican’s pouch.

The pelican will begin by filling its extended pouch during a regular fishing expedition.

The water then flows out when the pouch contracts. The pelican swallows the fish that is left behind entirely after the water has drained away.

Pelican Beak Name | Do pelicans have bills or beaks?

Pelicans have bills. Though both beaks and bills are used for feeding, the major difference is that bills are flat and rounded at the rear end.

Birds that consume aquatic organisms frequently have bills. Pelicans which consume fish, a water creature, therefore, have bills.

Pelican Beak Anatomy:

The following image has specific demarcations made. The anatomy of the beak can be understood with reference to these four pointers:

  1. The pouch of the pelican hangs from the two thin bones which make up its lower jaw.
  1. In order to help the pelican grasp the slippery fish, the bill is hooked up at the end.
  1. The bill is also sensitive to vibrations. This proves useful in locating fish even in murky water.
  1. The pelican claps its bill shut repeatedly to cause ripples in its pouch, which resemble a flag fluttering in the wind, in an effort to entice a potential mate. Their bills and pouches also exhibit blue, pink, black, and yellow displays while mating.
  1. The lower portion of the pelican’s bill is where the throat sac, which is made of exposed skin, hangs. When feeding, the pelican dives underwater and expands its pouch, acting like a net and catching fish and water.

Pelican throws up its head and gulps down the fish after draining the water.

Contrary to common perception, the pelican doesn’t keep anything in its pouch for a long time. It is instead employed as a temporary food and water collector.

Evolution and adaptation of the pelican beak

The discovery of an old pelican fossil shows that pelicans have had large beaks for at least 30 million years. The fact that this ancient pelican resembles present species so closely has astonished them the most.

The discovery shocked the scientists because it shows how little pelicans have changed over such a long period of time. Fish of the same size and shape as the contemporary prey of pelicans existed in the early Oligocene.

This shows that because pelicans have large beaks that are ideal for eating fish, they swiftly developed them and have kept them largely unmodified ever since.

What color is a pelican’s beak?

The normal colors of pelicans’ beaks are listed below. However, it is important to note that their beaks might change color to pink, blue, yellow, grey, or the like during the mating season.

PelicanColor of the beak (default)
American white PelicanYellow-orange
Dalmatian PelicanGreyish beak with orange or yellowish pouch
Brown PelicanPale bills with a little brown
Great white PelicanPale, dull-colored bill
Pink-backed PelicanPinkish bill
Australian PelicanPink
Peruvian PelicanReddish-orange lower mandible that turns yellow toward the bill’s base.
Spot-billed pelicanThe bill’s tip is yellow to orange in color.

How long is a pelican’s beak?

PelicanSize of the beak (default)
American White PelicanMales: 13–14.4 inches (330–370 mm)Females: 10.4–13 in (260–330 mm) 
Dalmatian PelicanUp to 45 cm
Brown PelicanApproximately 9 inches (23 centimeters)
Great White Pelican35-47 cm for males and 29-40 cm for females
Pink-backed Pelican11-15 inches
Australian PelicanLongest beak in the world with a length of 40-50 cm. Males have a bigger size than females do.
Peruvian PelicanApproximately 9 inches
Spot-billed Pelican280-350 mm in length

What is the bump on the pelican beak?

Although its purpose is not totally clear, it is often believed to be a sign of fertility. During the breeding season, both sexes of pelicans grow a bulge that is not on their bellies. After the birds have mated and laid eggs, the mass that grows on top of their beaks falls off. 

What is a pelican pouch called?

The gular pouch is the name for the sizable, fibrous skin pouch that hangs from a pelican’s bill (or, occasionally, the gular sac).

Many people wrongly think it functions as a built-in lunchbox or storage for food. This is not accurate. Pelicans don’t actually store food in their gular pouches for a long time; instead, they use them to capture it.

What does a pelican hold in its beak?

The pelican uses its beak pouch to catch fish. It, however, does not hold its food for long there. The pouch merely acts as a net.

Is the capacity of a pelican’s bill more than its belly?

Yes, it is interesting to know that the fish holding capacity of the mouth pouch of pelicans is three times than that of their stomach.

Does a pelican have a tongue?

Yes, the pelicans have a tongue that is typically small. However, the tongue bone of brown pelicans is around 4 inches (10 cm) long and relatively large.

Are pelican beaks sharp? Why do pelicans have hooks on their beaks?

Yes, pelican beaks are sharp and have hooks to help them grasp the slippery fish.

Do pelicans bite? Would it hurt if a pelican bites you?

Yes, if you hook a pelican, then you need to take extra caution to protect yourself since their sharp beaks can cause harm. Put on sunglasses, goggles, or other eye protection, and ask a friend to help you.

Hold the bird firmly and steer it by the head. To calm it down, place a towel over the head. To control the feet and toes, hold the head behind the eyes, fold the wings, and grab the legs


It is evident that though these birds have not evolved much over time, it is partly due to the fact that they had adapted to their habitats a long time ago. 

Each of the eight species of pelicans has beaks of different shades and sizes. However, the ultimate purpose that it serves remains the same for all species.

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