The spot-billed pelican is relatively small with the typically large bill that characterises this family of waterbirds. These birds have large, expandable throat pouches which are used to scoop up fish from the surface of the water (3). As their common name suggests, these pelicans possess a spotted bill; the throat pouch is also spotted in appearance (2). The plumage is dusky grey and the crown is tufted at the back of the head (2).
Spot-billed pelicans nest in colonies, usually in old trees; returning to the same trees and the same position each year. The breeding season is dependent on the rains, but on the Indian subcontinent pairs begin to construct their nests in September (4). The clutch of around two to three eggs is laid from October to November and the chicks fledge around three months after laying (4). Enormous colonies have been recorded in the past, when hundreds of birds nested in the same area of the forest, with up to 15 nests per tree (4).
Little is known about the feeding ecology of these pelicans; individuals appear to mainly hunt for fish prey on a solitary basis (4).
Previously common and widespread in Asia, the spot-billed pelican was known from Pakistan to Vietnam (4). Over the 20th century however, this species has suffered a dramatic decline and breeding populations are today confined to India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia (4).
The loss of the spot-billed pelican from much of its former range has been attributed to habitat destruction. Wetlands are notoriously fragile, threatened ecosystems and in addition, these birds require forest habitat for breeding which is also threatened by logging practices and the conversion of the land to agriculture and development (4). The disturbance of breeding colonies due to the destruction of habitat can have particularly devastating consequences (4).
The spot-billed pelican is protected by law in India, Sri Lanka, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos (4). A number of the key breeding sites are also protected; particularly in India and the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve in Cambodia, which encompasses the important Prek Toal and Moat Khla/Boeng Chhma breeding sites (2). A community-based project has sprung up around the breeding site at Kokkare Bellur in India. The Mysore Amateur Naturalists (MAN) was established in order to protect the pelicans that breed in the area and concentrates on the involvement and education of local communities, who historically have close ties with these birds (5).
To learn more about a Whitley Award-winning conservation project for this species, click here.
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