Questions & Answers


Visitors asking – Whisperers answering

Below I list a few questions that my fellow whisperers and I are being asked by visitors in Tierpark Berlin about the pelicans.


Why ist he pelican lying on the ground, is it sick?

No, it is not sick, it is resting and feeling comfortable when lying on the ground.

The pelican is shivering, is it freezing or afraid?

No, it is neither freezing nor afraid. Shivering is a sign of well-being in pelicans, it also occurs when you pat the bird.

Can I pat the pelican?

Sure, you can try but be aware it may not feel like being patted and could show that to you. It could involve attacking you with its beak, or the pelican turns away and takes off. You should always respect the animal’s reaction! The pelicans’ displeasure with some visitors is always rooted in the person and his or her actions or/and the animals’ current mood.

The pelicans move about freely, are they allowed to and why don’t they fly away?

Yes, the pelicans can move about freely in the zoo and can be found in different places. However, at night they always return to their favourite sleeping spots in the colony.  various spots. No, they won’t fly away as most of the pelicans are unable to fly. One of their wings was cropped in their first days of life (in the author’s opinion, this is cruelty to animals!). There is another way to prevent them from flying away, namely the regular cropping of the flight feathers on one wing. This doesn’t hurt the bird and the flight feathers grow back so that the pelican keeps the ability to fly.

Are the pelicans dangerous?

No, they are not really dangerous although their size and the long beak with the hook at its tip are quite formidable. Pelicans are often playful and curious, and when treated respectfully as described above, paying attention to warning signs, encounters can be accident-free :-)

Why does the pelican open its beak so widely, is it hungry?

No it’s not, pelicans present a wide-open beak when yawning and stretching  but also to show off and intimidate visitors a bit. 

The pelican is playing with a plastic bottle, won’t it swallow it?

No, it’s not going to swallow it but it likes to play with it. It throws it up in the air and catches it. Besides, plastic bottles make nice crackling noises. They also like to play with rubber or styrofoam parts as they can squeeze and drop them and see them hop over the ground, which in addition wakes their hunting instinct. Even without the help of visitors, pelicans occasionally inspect the trash and scan them for usable toys. :-)

Can I give a peice of bread to the pelican? Does it eat bread?D

No please don’t! Pelicans feed exclusively on fish! The eat neither bread nor biscuits, sweets, candy, fruit or vegetables, cheese or cake.

Are pelicans edible?

Well, in principle everything is, but pelicans are not on the menu anywhere in the world, not even in Asia ;-). Like most fish-eating animals, pelicans are not suited for human consumption, their meat is supposed to taste a lot like fish oil.

Are the pelicans spending the winter outside?

No, the pelicans in Tierpark Berlin-Friedrichsfelde can only be seen in front of the Friedrichsfelde Palace from March/April until the end of October. After the first frost, nsind die Pelikane nur in der Zeit von März/April bis Ende Oktober im Freien vor dem Schloss Friedrichsfelde zu sehen. Sobald der erste Frost Einzug gehalten hat, siedeln die they move to their winter shelter. A few can be watched in the pelican winter house but most naimals are kept behind the scenes, far from the Tierpark visitors. In the Berlin Zoo, only Dalmatian Pelicans are on display in the open during the winter months, as this species is frost-resistant and the Berlin Zoo has a heatable body of water which the pelicans need. All other species are also behind closed doors in the Berlin Zoo during the winter. 

Is the little pelican the young of the big one?

No, there are larger and smaller pelican species. Australian, Dalmatian, Great White and American White Pelicans belong to the larger species and Pink-backed, Spot-billed, Peruvian and Brown Pelicans to the smaller ones. Visitors will not see zoo-hatched pelicans while they are “little“, unless there are press showings in the bird breeding stations.

Are the Great White Pelicans fed something to turn their plumage pink?

No, they are not fed special food. By the time they are four years old, Great Whites have naturally reached the stage of fully pink plumage. The plumage changes colour bit by bit when the pelican grows up.

This pelican here has such a light-coloured back. Is the plumage bleeched by the sun?

No, pelican plumage doesn’t get bleeched by the sun. On the one hand, different species of pelicans are kept in the Tierpark, and on the other hand, there are differences in plumage colour within one species. This is completely normal.

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