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Pelecanus rufescens (Pink-backed pelican) 

Kleinpelikaan [Afrikaans]; iFuba, iVuba (generic terms for pelican) [Zulu]; Gumbula, Khungulu, Manawavembe, Xilandzaminonga (generic terms for pelican) [Tsonga]; Kleine pelikaan, Roodrugpelikaan [Dutch]; Pélican gris [French]; Rötelpelikan [German]; Pelicano-cinzento [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Pelecanidae

Pelecanus rufescens (Pink-backed pelican) 

Pink-backed pelican. [photo Gerhard Theron ©]

Pelecanus rufescens (Pink-backed pelican)  Pelecanus rufescens (Pink-backed pelican) 

Pink-backed pelicans, Spitskop Dam. [photos Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from south-west Arabia to much of sub-Saharan Africa. In southern Africa, it is locally fairly common in central and southern Mozambique, south-western Zimbabwe, northern Botswana, the Caprivi Strip and north-eastern South Africa. It can occupy a variety of wetland types, generally preferring dams, lakes, slow-moving rivers, lagoons, saline pools, estuaries, lagoons and sheltered bays.

Distribution of Pink-backed-pelican in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

It has been recorded as prey of Crocodylus niloticus (Nile crocodile).

Movements and migrations

Resident and locally nomadic, moving in response to changes in wetland conditions, although juveniles tend to wander considerably longer distances than adults.


It mainly eats fish, such as tilapia (Tilapia and Haplochromis), occasionally supplemented with fruit, doing most of its foraging alone in the period from in the morning and evening. It generally stays close to the shore in shallow water, catching prey underwater with its large bill pouch, draining the water out before throwing its head back and swallowing the prey whole.


  • Little known in southern Africa, but well-studied in East Africa; it is monogamous, breeding in colonies of roughly 15-140 pairs, often along with storks, herons, African spoonbills and African darters. Groups of males display and attack each other, each selecting a nest site where he performs to passing females.
  • The nest is built by the female in about a week, with material gathered by the male, consisting of an untidy stick platform with a shallow central depression. It is typically placed in the canopy of a tree (often over water) or occasionally on an island or reedbed.
  • Egg-laying season is from June-January.
  • It lays 1-4 eggs at 2-3 days intervals, which are incubated by both sexes for 30-35 days (recorded in East Africa).
  • The chicks are fed by both parents and brooded for the first few weeks of their lives; younger chicks often die of starvation due to intense competition for food with their older siblings. The oldest chick sometimes pecks the eyes of the other chicks, causing them to fall off the nest. They take their first flight at roughly 12 weeks old, leaving the nest completely a few days later.


Not threatened globally, but Vulnerable in South Africa, largely caused by wetland loss and degradation.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.