Pelicans Fighting for a Fish
Bird Photography,  Nature,  Wildlife

American White Pelicans Fish Stealing Behavior

While photographing American White Pelicans on the Mississippi River in Illinois, I noticed interesting behavior occurring between the pelicans.  American White Pelicans are quite good at stealing food from each other.

American White Pelicans Trying to Steal a Fish

This blog contains photos as well as descriptions of this intriguing pelican behavior.  Click on the photos in the blog to see a larger image.

American White Pelicans often work together to fish in small groups to herd fish to each other and drive the fish into shallower water.  White Pelicans also frequently try to steal the fish from other pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls.

Group of Pelicans Fighting for a Fish

Other pelicans also fly in from a distance to get into the scrum and attempt to steal the fish.  The pelicans will poke at the successful pelican fisherman’s pouch and try to open the pouch to steal the fish.

White Pelican Holding his Head High to Protect his Fish

The pelican with the fish tries to separate itself from the crowd and raises its head in an attempt to swallow the fish.  This scrum can last 15 minutes or more and the fish thieves are often successful.

White Pelican Protecting his Fish

The population of American White Pelicans on the upper Mississippi River has now grown to several thousand birds, so there is plenty of fish stealing activity going on.  I photographed several fish stealing scenes in just one morning.

Pelicans Fighting for a Fish

Written by Martin Belan

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One Comment

  • Kyle

    Amazing capture and quite the battle here! That looks like a huge fish (do you know what kind and can you see it thrashing about inside the pouch??) caught! So can the bird shot here really manage to win the struggle and gulp that whole thing down okay?


    Does the fish put up a good fight? If eaten, does the unlucky prey get swallowed wriggling all the way as well?!

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