The Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) is a large waterbird of the family Pelecanidae, widespread on the inland and coastal waters of Australia and New Guinea, also in Fiji, parts of Indonesia and as a vagrant in New Zealand. It is a predominantly white bird with black wings and a pink bill. It has been recorded as having the longest bill of any living bird. It mainly eats fish, but will also consume birds and scavenges for scraps.
The Australian pelican was first described by Dutch naturalist Coenraad Jacob Temminck in 1824. Its specific epithet is derived from the Latin verb conspicere, meaning ‘to behold’, and refers to the ‘spectacled’ appearance created by its conspicuous eye markings.
Overall, the Australian pelican is predominantly white in colour. There is a white panel on the upper-wing and a white-V on the rump set against black along the primaries. During courtship, the orbital skin and distal quarter of the bill are orange-coloured with the pouch variously turning dark blue, pink and scarlet. The non-breeding adult has its bill and eye-ring a pale yellow and the pouch is a pale pinkish. Juvenile birds are similar to the adults, but with black replaced with brown and the white patch on upper wing reduced.
Australian pelicans occur primarily in large expanses of open water without dense aquatic vegetation. The habitats that can support them include large lakes, reservoirs, billabongs and rivers, as well as estuaries, swamps, temporarily flooded areas in arid zones, drainage channels in farmland, salt evaporation ponds and coastal lagoons. The surrounding environment is unimportant: it can be forest, grassland, desert, estuarine mudflats, an ornamental city park, or industrial wasteland, provided only that there is open water able to support a sufficient supply of food. However, they do seem to prefer areas where disturbance is relatively low while breeding. They may also roost on mudflats, sandbars, beaches, reefs, jetties and pilings.
The Australian pelican is not globally threatened. They are usually fairly common in proper habitats. At the aforementioned temporarily Lake Eyre in March 1990, over 200,000 adult birds were found to be breeding. The species is legally protected and does not seem to be showing any immediate adverse effects from pollution.
In several areas, such as the beach at Monkey Mia, Western Australia and at The Entrance, New South Wales, pelicans may associate with humans and may even beg for hand-outs; however, they are quite sensitive to human disturbances while nesting. They will readily adapt to artificial bodies of water such as reservoirs so long as there is no regular boating in them. Due to the popularity of open water sports, the habitat of this pelican has suffered considerably less than more vegetated wetlands throughout Australia.