Archived 2017 topics: Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus): downlist to Near Threatened?

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus breeds predominantly in south-east Europe and central Asia, with breeding taking place in at least 12 countries (see Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017). During the non-breeding season, individuals in western populations migrate to the Mediterranean; individuals from Russia and central Asia migrate to Iraq, Iran and the Indian Subcontinent; and individuals breeding in Mongolia migrate to eastern China (Elliot et al. 2017).

This species has been threatened by a range of threats. Historically, this species was threatened by drainage of its wetland habitat, persecution from fishers, and hunting (Crivelli 1994, Crivelli et al. 1997, Mix and Bräunlich 2000), with poaching/persecution continuing to be a major threat to the species in east Asia (Shi et al. 2008, Yat-tung Yu and Chen Zhihong 2008, G. Catsadorakis in litt. 2017). Additionally, further destruction and degradation of wetlands, collisions with power-lines and disturbance are all other continuing threats to this species (Crivelli et al. 1999, Mix and Bräunlich 2000, Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017). These threats led to rapid declines and the species was listed as Vulnerable under criteria A2ce+3ce+4ce (see BirdLife International 2017).

New information suggests that the global Red List category for this species may need to be revised. Catsadorakis and Portolou (2017) place the global population size at a minimum of 5,693-6,694 breeding pairs, potentially up to 7,342-8,984 (G. Catsadorakis in litt. 2017), an increase from previous estimates made in the 1980s-1990s of 4,034-5,196 pairs. Of the nine countries where the species breeds regularly, four populations are fluctuating (Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Montenegro), three are increasing (Greece, Turkey and Albania) and one is stable (Romania) (Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017), with indications that the populations in Russia and Montenegro may be increasing too (G. Catsadorakis in litt. 2017). Based on the available data, the species is also thought to have increased overall in Kazakhstan over the last decade (A. Zhatkanbayev in litt. to Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017).

Given this data, it is therefore plausible that the species has actually increased over the past 3 generations (33 years), and in the European Red List the species was listed as Least Concern at regional scale because of such increases (BirdLife International 2015). There are still population declines being reported for some countries, particularly those outside of Europe (Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, parts of Kazakhstan and Iran), but the data suggests that overall these have been outweighed by the increases elsewhere.

As the species is currently increasing overall, it might warrant listing as Least Concern, because it would not approach the threshold for Vulnerable under any criterion. However, there remains some doubt about the current overall size and trend of the breeding population in Kazakhstan, which potentially contains 29-47% of the global population and where a number of threats remain active (Catsadorakis and Portolou 2017). Additionally, the species in south-east Europe is entirely management-dependent and so the removal of conservation measures could lead to future population declines (G. Catsadorakis in litt. 2017). Therefore, there is the potential for large declines in the future (though not necessarily >30% of the global population over 3 generations), even though the evidence suggests that the species has not globally declined in the recent past. As such, it may be appropriate to propose that this species could undergo moderately rapid declines in the next three generations and so it is proposed that the species be listed as Near Threatened under criterion A3cde.

We welcome any further information or comments regarding this proposed downlisting.



BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

BirdLife International. 2017. Species factsheet: Pelecanus crispus. Downloaded from on 12/04/2017.

Catsadorakis, G.; D. Portolou (compilers). 2017. Status Report for the Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus). Report of Action A6 under the framework of Project LIFE EuroSAP (LIFE14 PRE/UK/002). Hellenic Ornithological Society and Society for the Protection of Prespa (unpublished report).

Crivelli, A. 1994. The importance of the former USSR for the conservation of pelican populations nesting in the Palaeartic. In: Crivelli, A.J.; Krivenko, V.G.; Vinogradov, V.G. (ed.), Pelicans in the former USSR, pp. 1-4. International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, Slimbridge, UK.

Crivelli, A. J.; Catsadorakis, G.; Hatzilacou, D.; Nazirides, T. 1997. Pelicanus crispus Dalmatian Pelican. Birds of the Western Palearctic Update 1(3): 149-153.

Crivelli, A. J.; Marsili, L.; Focardi, S.; Renzoni, A. 1999. Organochlorine compounds in pelicans (Pelecanus crispus and Pelecanus onocrotalus) nesting at Lake Mikri Prespa, north-western Greece. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 62: 383-389.

Elliott, A.; Christie, D. A.; Jutglar, F.; Kirwan, G. M. 2017. Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 12 April 2017).

Hatzilacou, D. 1993. The distribution of the globally endangered Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus in Greece: threats pertaining to its habitats and recommendations for protection. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Sandy, U.K.

Mix, H. M.; Bräunlich, A. 2000. Dalmatian Pelican. In: Reading, R.P.; Miller, B. (ed.), Endangered animals: a reference guide to conflicting issues, pp. 78-83. Greenwood Press, London.

Shi, H. Q.; Cao, L.; Barter, M. A.; Liu, N. F. 2008. Status of the East Asian population of the Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus: the need for urgent conservation action. Bird Conservation International 18(2): 181-193.

Yat-tung Yu; Chen Zhihong. 2008. Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus: the largest waterbird in East Asia, and the rarest? BirdingASIA 9: 62-66.

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8 Responses to Archived 2017 topics: Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus): downlist to Near Threatened?

  1. According to the preliminary results of the IWC trend analyses for the period of 1991-2015, the Southwest Asian population has increased by 5.5% (n.s.) over the entire period, but declined by 5.6% between 2006 and 2015.

  2. India is one of the wintering grounds for this species. The Indian population during the period 2006 to 2015 does indicate a fall in numbers as per data complied in The Asian Waterbird Census 2008-2015: Results of coordinated counts in Asia and Australasia [Mundkur, T., Langendoen, T. and Watkins, D. (eds.) 2017. The Asian Waterbird Census 2008-2015 – results of coordinated counts in Asia and Australasia. Wetlands International, Ede.], with a peak count of 527 during 2010. However the counts during 2012, 2013 & 2014 were 217, 131 and 162 respectively, thereby indicating a fall. The figure for 2015 was a little higher with 366. So there are no clear indicators available from India to suggest for downlisting of the species. Accordingly it is proposed to retain the current/existing listing as ‘Vulnerable’.

  3. Andrej Vizi says:

    Montenegro has a small breeding colony with a long history. Quite recently, the species started to recover after years of declining and low breeding success caused by disturbance and floods. Last year, they reached the historically known maximum of 50 breeding pairs. However, the population remains management dependent on Skadar Lake, where the colony is situated. It exclusively breeds on artificial platforms since 2014, as natural substrate is scarce and exposed to floods. Current breeding success could not be maintained without human intervention, which in practice does render the pelicans vulnerable.

  4. Regarding the Dalmatian Pelican Bulgaria, all threats and negative factors (predators and wild boars, persecution, fires in the reedbeds, extremely low temperatures, high water level, clashing into electric power cables, shooting, oiling etc…) are published by:
    T. Michev, P. Simeonov, N. Kamburova, E. Todorov, G. Dulev (2012). “National action plan for the conservation of the Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) in Bulgaria 2013 – 2022”. Ministry of the Environment and Water. Online at:

    Michev, T., P. Simeonov (2015). Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus). In: Golemansky, V. et al. (Eds) 2015. Red Data Book of the Republic of Bulgaria. Volume 2. Animals. BAS & MoEW, Sofia.

    P. Simeonov (2011). Srebarna Dalmatian Pelican Colony – a successful example of international partnership for Nature Conservation. Regulus (Zäitschrëft fir natur & ëmwelt) 8: 16-18.

  5. Greg Johnston says:

    The question in my mind is what baseline should be used to assess red book listing for Dalmatian pelicans? A change from 5,200 breeding pairs in the 1980s-1990s to 6,700 breeding pairs in 2017 seems wonderful – a 1.28 increase! However, Nelson’s (2005) book says “Little more than a century ago this pelican numbered ‘millions’ across its range from Europe to China” p.260. If the breeding population was 100,000 pairs then, the current population is 6.7% of the breeding population a century ago and the increase in the past nearly forty years has been 1.5% of the century ago baseline. Whereas the 40 year ago baseline suggests massive recoveries, the change from century ago would suggest to me that the species remains vulnerable.

    A 28% increase in the small number of breeding Dalmatian pelicans is still a small number.

    How many of the existing breeding sites are in protected areas where threatening processes have been halted or reversed? What proportion of the breeding population is represented in protected and unprotected sites?

  6. In addition to my previous comment I think that bird flu should also be included in the threats and in this respect I am updating you with the following information from Bulgaria: In March 2015 Bird flu (H5N1 virus) killed at least 45 adult Dalmatian Pelicans in their breeding colony at Srebarna Biosphere Reserve. In connection with this new threat I think it would be worth if we also learn more about the infected pelicans found in the neighboring Romania.

  7. KM says:

    A potential downgrading would mean less support for the SEE populations and as mentioned in the article without conservation actions in the ground the pop in would decrease (both in Albania and Montenegro the colonies are guarded 24/7 and the pop increase has been strongly linked with that). On the other the food sources, foraging, and surrounding habitats to base colonies in SEE need further studies. Related to population dynamics and trends, the pelican censuses have been carried out only in the last two years and there might be needed more time to develop trends and to study different meta populations. Therefore down-listing should be based on strong scientific facts and proven population stability in time.

  8. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2017 Red List would be to adopt the proposed classification outlined in the initial forum discussion.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 4 August, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from those in the initial proposal.

    The final 2017 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

Comments are closed.