A social and cooperative bird, the great white pelican fishes in the early morning, spending the remainder of the day preening and bathing. Groups of birds bathe in shallow water, ducking their heads and bodies beneath the surface and flapping their wings. Pelicans may also be seen standing on sandbars and small islands with their wings spread and bills open, to cool down. The great white pelican feeds on large fish, mainly carp in Europe and cichlids in Africa, but is also known to take eggs and chicks of the Cape cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis) in southwest Africa. Despite evidence suggesting that pelicans take fewer fish when fishing as a group, the great white pelican commonly feeds cooperatively. Between 8 and 12 or more birds form a horseshoe shape, herding fish into shallow water, and plunging their bills to catch the fish along the way. Once a pelican has fish in its pouch, it tilts its head vertically and swallows them whole (2).
During the breeding season, the great white pelican male behaves territorially; gaping, clapping its bill and bowing. It may even attack other males using the bill, should they come too close. Breeding takes place in spring in Europe, but is year-round in Africa, and despite the male’s defensive behaviour, the birds nest colonially near water. Males display using the head crest and the bright colours of the pouch. Once pairs have formed, a rudimentary nest is built on the ground from sticks (2). The female lays an average of two eggs and incubates them for 31 days (2) (7). The chicks fledge after 75 to 85 days, reaching sexual maturity at three to four years (2) (7). Great white pelicans can live for up to 30 years (2).