Pink-backed pelican

At the Detroit Zoo

The Detroit Zoo is home to eight pink-backed pelicans that arrived in June 2014. They can be found in their African Grasslands habitat north of the bear dens.



The pink-backed pelican is among the smallest of pelican species. Its plumage is white, grey and pink with dark grey wing tips; the pink back and rump can only be seen when the wings are unfolded. Its pouch, the most spectacular feature of the bird, is tucked between its long beak and neck. The yellow beak has a large hook at the tip for gripping fish. A mature individual has long feather plumes on the back of its head.

Scientific name: Pelecanus rufescens
Continent: Africa
Habitat: Freshwater wetlands, lagoons, rivers, ponds and swamps
Size: 2.5 feet tall
Weight: 12 - 16 pounds
Diet: Fish, a variety of small invertebrates, and amphibians
Reproduction: The species breeds year-round, nesting in small groups or larger loose colonies of between 20 and 500 pairs.
Lifespan: 30 years
Conservation Status: Least Concern




Pink-backed pelicans cannot sweat, so when they get hot they cool themselves instead by fluttering air over the moist skin on the inside of their throat pouches.


A pink-backed pelican can hold 2 gallons of water in its pouch