A gregarious species (8), the Australian pelican can often be found in large groups (3) (4) (12). As a partial migrant (4), this species is a strong flier (12), and will occasionally move to inland lakes during times of drought (2) (4). The Australian pelican is highly distinctive in flight, keeping its neck retracted as it flies in a ‘V’ formation with other individuals, gliding and soaring with deep, slow wing beats (9).
The principal component of the Australian pelican’s diet is fish (2) (3), particularly carp (Cyprinus carpio) and perch (Perca fluviatilis) (2). However, it has also been recorded taking insects, small crustaceans, and even small birds, reptiles and amphibians (2) (3). The Australian pelican often feeds cooperatively, forming feeding flocks of up to 1,900 individuals (2). Foraging typically occurs in areas of open water (3), where this species catches its prey either by plunge-diving from just above the water (2), or by swimming on the surface and submerging its bill (3) (8). The Australian pelican is occasionally kleptoparasitic, robbing fish from other bird species (2).
Although relatively little is known about the breeding biology of the Australian pelican, it is thought to breed all year round in certain areas (2), with the timing and duration of breeding being largely dependent upon rainfall and water levels (2) (3). The Australian pelican is monogamous, with breeding pairs remaining together for a single season (6), and it breeds on low, secluded, undisturbed islands or shores, on bare ground or among grassy, patchily distributed vegetation (3). This species’ nest is a depression in the ground (2), usually just above the high water mark (3) (7), and is lined with sticks, seaweed, grassy herbs, and even bits of rubbish (2) (3) (7). Occasionally, the Australian pelican nests in bushes, where it builds a slightly more elaborate structure (2).
The female Australian pelican lays a clutch of between one and four eggs, although two is most common (2) (3) (7). These yellowish-white eggs are incubated by both adults (3) (6) (7) for a period of 32 to 35 days before the naked chicks hatch (2) (3). After being cared for continuously for about 25 days (2) (3), the Australian pelican chicks gather together in ‘pods’ or crèches, which can contain up to 100 birds (2) (3) (6). Interestingly, the adults can recognise their offspring among the mass of chicks, and will only feed their own young (6). At approximately three months of age, the young chicks attempt their first flight (2) (3).