Methods of fishing differ among the different pelican species:
Brown pelican—a plunge diver that fishes over salt water. The brown pelican can sight a fish when flying at heights up to 70 feet (21 meters) and then dives headfirst into the water. The bird may submerge completely with a great splash or only partially, depending on the height of the dive. Air sacs under its skin cushion the impact of hitting the water, and the sacs also help the bird bob back to the surface like a feathered cork. The brown pelican seems to be the only species that uses this method of fishing.
American white pelican—a group fisher. Four to five American white pelicans swim side by side, gliding quietly in a semicircle facing the shore. Then, with much wing flapping and water splashing, they drive fish ahead of them toward the shore. Once the fish are in shallow water, it is easy for the pelicans to scoop them up in their bill!
Pink-backed pelican and spot-billed pelican—quick grabbers. These pelicans paddle along in the water, usually where there is a lot of vegetation where they can hide. They slowly swim up to prey and then catch it with a quick lunge. These birds like to hunt by themselves.
Dalmatian pelican—let others find the fish! In the Prespa Lakes of Greece, the Dalmatian pelican has been seen flying with cormorants. The cormorants dive deep in the water, which brings the fish to the surface for the pelican to scoop up!
It is a good thing pelicans are successful fishers, because they are among the largest of all birds. An adult pelican may eat up to 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) of fish per day! Around the world, pelicans have been accused of competing with fishermen as well as with the commercial fishing industry. However, numerous studies have shown that pelicans usually eat “rough” fish, such as carp, shiners, mullet, and minnows, which are not favorites with people.