Dalmatian pelican

You will know them by their tousled head

With a wingspan nearing 3 m, Dalmatian pelicans are among the biggest birds in Bulgaria. However, their most impressive feature is their huge beak with its throat pouch. In the breeding season the beak and the pouch turn bright red, adding to the pelicans’ attractiveness. These gigantic birds are easily recognizable by their uniform white-greyish plumage and the curly feathers on their head. The Dalmatian pelican is one of the two species of pelican that are found in Bulgaria.

Wetlands: the pelicans’ home

Pelicans live in wetlands with lush vegetation on the periphery of the water. The birds search for food in fresh-water basins. The availability of suitable nesting and feeding habitats is a prerequisite for the breeding of the Dalmatian pelican.

© Sv.Spasov/Dalmatian pelican

The young hatch…

Dalmatian pelicans nest in colonies at several locations on the Balkan Peninsula, in Russia and in Asia. Some of the species’ largest colonies are found in Greece and in the Danube Delta. Until recently the only breeding site of Dalmatian pelicans in Bulgaria was in Srebarna Lake. However, in the spring of 2016 Dalmatians occupied the raised wooden platforms in Peschina Marsh on Persin Island; the platforms were installed by the BSPB and experts from the Directorate of Persina Nature Park, near the town of Belene. Thus, the second breeding colony of the species in the country was established. This effort triumphed with the hatching of the first young Dalmatian pelican in the new colony in June the same year.

© Sv.Spasov/Dalmatian pelican

The story goes on…

Just four years later, in 2020, Dalmatian pelicans formed a third colony in Bulgaria. The birds occupied the raised wooden platform in Martvo Blato, again on Persin Island; it was built in 2012 by the BSPB with the cooperation of the nature park authorities. The distance between the two colonies on Persin Island is 1800 m, so the third colony may be regarded as a subcolony to the second one. Nevertheless, there are already three breeding sites of the Dalmatian pelican in Bulgaria – Srebarna Lake, Peschina Marsh and Martvo Blato Marsh.

© Sv.Spasov/Dalmatian pelican

You can find it also…

One of the most important sites for the conservation of the Dalmatian pelican in Bulgaria are the Burgas Lakes. These wetlands play an enormous role for the species during its wintering and migration. Dalmatian pelicans can be observed in the lakes throughout the year, with highest numbers during migration – from several hundred to almost a thousand individuals. Significant numbers of pelicans spend the winter on some of the larger reservoirs in South Bulgaria – Ovcharitsa, Rozov Kladenets, Studen Kladenets, etc.

In the city of Burgas you can spot flying flocks of pelicans every day – they spend the night in Atanassovsko Lake and go to feed in Vaya Lake. During migration and in the winter Dalmatian pelicans have been observed in inland wetlands too.

© Sv.Spasov/Dalmatian pelican

Recovering and improving important sites and habitats

The deterioration and destruction of the places where Dalmatian pelicans live, feed and breed are among the most serious threats for the species and the reason for its decline on the Balkan Peninsula and in Asia. The protection and conservation of wetlands (lakes, marshes, reservoirs, etc.) is of key significance for the species.

New safe breeding grounds

Creating the right nesting conditions for Dalmatian pelicans at suitable sites is among the most important priorities for its conservation. At key locations for the species in Bulgaria, such as the marshes on Persin Island and the Burgas Lakes, man-made platforms are built to stimulate the establishment of new breeding colonies. These raised platforms built within the boundaries of the wetlands provide peace for the birds and protect them from wild boar, jackals, stray dogs, etc.

© Bogdan Boev/Dalmatian pelican

Measures against poaching

Poaching and disturbance in the areas where Dalmatian pelicans breed, feed, migrate or winter are among the most serious threats for the species. Therefore, the BSPB cooperated with state institutions (regional inspectorates of environment and water, regional forest directorates, state forest management units) to start a patrolling programme in the wetlands where the problem exists.

Safe electricity pylons and poles

‘Traffic lights’ for pelicans
In certain conditions such as low visibility due to fog or heavy wind, Dalmatian pelicans, as well as other big birds, can collide with power lines on their migration routes and on their daily routes to their feeding and resting sites.

Unfortunately, sometimes the pelicans are not able to see the power lines in front of them and collision may follow; the collisions are lethal for the pelicans. The victims are most frequently heavy, clumsy birds. This calls for additional measures to prevent such sad incidents.

To help against collisions with the lines of the power distribution grid, diverters are used. Diverters are devices with reflective surfaces that are installed along the length of the power lines. As they rotate, they reflect sunlight, thus signaling to the birds of the obstacle ahead and giving them the chance to avoid it.

Satellite tagging

In order to learn more about pelican migration and movements our team has started taging them with GPS-GSM transmitters. The devices will deliver valuable data and we will learn more about threats for the survival of the species.

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