Definition of pelican in US English:



  • 1A large gregarious waterbird with a long bill, an extensible throat pouch for scooping up fish, and mainly white or gray plumage.

    Genus Pelecanus, family Pelecanidae: six species, including the white pelican (P. erythrorhynchos) of western and central North America, and the brown pelican (P. occidentalis) of northern and western South America and the southern US

    • ‘On your walk you will probably see mallards, grebes, canvasbacks and coons and perhaps snapping turtles and white pelicans.’
    • ‘Flamingos are conceded by all to be closely linked to pelicans, albatrosses, loons, probably penguins, and the like - the charadriomorph lineage.’
    • ‘Among the nearly 200 species found here are thicket tinamou, brown pelican, osprey, king vulture, and laughing gull.’
    • ‘The white pelican, however, is a threatened species.’
    • ‘You can visit all but three of the islands and paddle your heart out through preserved salt marsh on the eastern shores, where you might see ospreys, pelicans, egrets, or a bald eagle.’
    • ‘In Florida, populations of pelicans, egrets, spoonbills, and other water birds were suffering from pressure by commercial market hunters.’
    • ‘The water birds hovering around the lake include pelicans, spoonbills, Egyptian geese and hammerkops.’
    • ‘Over 350 species of birds have been recorded in Worcester Country, including pelicans and pewees, kingbirds and cuckoos, herons, harriers, and eagles.’
    • ‘While relaxing at a harbor-side lunch table, you can watch pelicans and fishing boats.’
    • ‘It's known, however, that species ranging from pelican to ducks and waders are caught for consumption.’
    • ‘Most of the postcranial elements belong to continental waterbirds, including pelicans, anhingas, herons, storks, ducks, and rails.’
    • ‘Once again it's possible to see 20,000 American white pelicans or 500,000 ducks in a single day.’
    • ‘There are herons, ducks, geese, ospreys, eagles, vultures, pelicans, gulls, plovers, avocets, storks, francolins, guinea fowls and many more.’
    • ‘In this lagoon, brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, great and snowy egrets, and numerous terns and gulls forage for fish and other items of food all day long.’
    • ‘There are also flies whose larvae develop only in the tracheal passages of red kangaroos and lice that live in the throat pouches of cormorants and pelicans.’
    • ‘The white pelican of North America is a large, web-footed bird with an enormous throat pouch for scooping up fish.’
    • ‘Seabirds like pelicans, penguins, and cormorants are highly vulnerable to oil, which can cover their feathers with a gluelike substance that can immobilize the animals.’
    • ‘Black swans, pelicans, white faced heron and mullet jumping out of the water were some of the attractions that were snapped by the budding photographers.’
    • ‘Millions of birds - ducks, geese, pelicans, shore birds - use the sea each year.’
    • ‘When the grey pelican scooped up the group of goslings, two of them were caught by the huge bird.’
    1. 1.1 A heraldic or artistic representation of a pelican, typically depicted pecking its own breast as a symbol of Christ.
      • ‘The pelican is a symbol of self-sacrifice, and a Masonic symbol of resurrection!’
      • ‘Two celery glasses made for them have the same pelican imagery engraved above a wide band of diamonds and diagonal blaze cuts.’
      • ‘Unfortunately, since ancient times, it has been the male pelican that has been said to wound himself in this way, and the pelican has thus always been a symbol of paternal sacrifice.’
      • ‘Art nouveau pelicans uphold the piers of Blackfriars Bridge, and high overhead stands the great iron badge of the London, Chatham & Dover Railway.’
      • ‘This act of self-vulning, in which the female pelican pecks blood from her chest to feed her young, symbolizes Christ feeding the faithful.’


Late Old English pellicane, via late Latin from Greek pelekan, probably based on pelekus ‘ax’ (with reference to its bill).