One of many reasons that Amvrakikos Gulf is among the most important wetlands internationally, is the presence of a permanent population of Dalmatian pelicans. During ancient times pelicans appear to have been spread widely through western Europe but the last century a strong decline in population and breeding colonies has occurred. This huge bird, with the unusual bill, is by a slight margin the largest of the pelican species and one of the largest living bird species, with wingspan up to 3.2m! Today the Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) is classified by IUCN as globally threatened. In Greece, one of the three sites that hold permanent popoulation and breeding colonies of these birds, are the wetlands of Amvrakikos Gulf. Now on February the breeding season begins and the pelicans’ bills and naked patches on their heads change to an intense orange colour!
Their nests are situated amongst aquatic vegetation on floating or stationary islands isolated from the mainland to avoid mammalian predators and human disturbance. Nests usually consist of a pile of reeds, grass and sticks approximately 1m high and 0.5-1.5m in diameter. The birds lay up to four eggs and incubation, which is spilt between both parents, lasts for 30 to 34 days. The chicks are born naked but soon sprout white down feathers. When the young are 6 to 7 weeks of age, the pelicans frequently gather in “pods”. The offspring fledge at around 85 days and become independent at 100 to 105 days old. Sexual maturity is thought to be obtained at 3 or 4 years of age. Nesting success relies on local environmental conditions, human disturbance, predation, loss of habitats etc. The dificult task to protect and monitor the breeding colonies in Amvrakikos Gulf is carried out by Amvrakikos Wetlands Management Body.
Last year, according to the scientists of the Management Body, the nesting success for the total of 161 active nests was 1.24 eggs/nest while 200 chicks with feathers were recorded.
Let’s hope that this year there will be even better breeding success!