The Avian Propagation Center at the San Diego Zoo has two new residents, a pair of Dalmatian pelicans, both less than a month old. The pair arrived at the Zoo from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, after their parents were unable to raise them upon hatching. Animal care staff at the Zoo’s off-exhibit Avian Propagation Center will hand-raise the birds for approximately 50 to 60 days, until they are strong enough to return to their flock at the Safari Park. The pelican chicks grow rapidly and should be covered in their downy feathers by three to four weeks of age.
The Dalmatian pelican chicks are part of the first North American breeding program for this vulnerable species. Since the breeding program was started in 2006, 34 chicks have been hatched. Because of the success, the Safari Park has sent some of the birds to the Phoenix Zoo, where a second breeding colony is being established.
Dalmatian pelicans are one of the rarest pelican species in the world and the largest of the pelican species. When they fledge at approximately six to seven months, the birds could measure five to six feet in length and have a wingspan of nine to 11 feet. Dalmatian pelicans live and nest in freshwater wetlands and rivers throughout Europe and Asia and have gone extinct in some of their native regions. The loss of numbers is due to damage of the delicate wetland habitats that they rely on for breeding and raising chicks.
Fish is the primary diet for the Dalmatian pelican, and they often must compete for food with fishing enterprises. In certain areas, they are hunted as a food source and for their bills, which herders use to comb horses.
Guests at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park can see Dalmatian pelicans in the middle of the large pond in the South African exhibit when they take the African Tram Safari.