Pelican Attacks

While watching the local news last night I was interested in one item relating to birds. At Waikerie in the Riverland area of South Australia two people were on the river bank fishing. According to the report one of the local pelicans came up and attacked the person fishing from his wheelchair, knocking him into the water. The victim’s friend came to the rescue, holding his head out of the water with one hand while ringing for an ambulance with his free hand.

This is not an isolated incident. Years ago I heard of a rogue pelican at Renmark, about an hour’s drive upstream from Waikerie. This pelican had been harassing people have picnics on the lawns in front of the hotel. There was even a report of a small dog being eaten by this pelican.

More recently, my daughter-in-law nearly lost her lunch when confronted by a pelican on the riverfront lawns at Mannum, which is further downstream. It was quite scarey for all of us sitting on the picnic seat. A fully grown pelican is quite a confronting beast about a metre from your face!

Australian Pelican

Australian Pelican

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11 Responses to “Pelican Attacks”

  1. Lance Ferris says:

    Hi Trevor,
    I have had 1013 pelicans, a metre from my face, and have yet to find a ‘rogue’ pelican. Yes, some are a little more aggressive than others. In the case of your Renmark story, my information has it that people have been feeding the pelicans at that location and the birds have become accustomed to humans. Any birder worth his/her salt would know that feeding wild birds is a no-no.
    As for eating small dogs… hahaha… there is a bloke in every coastal pub on the East Coast, who can tell you the story of the pelican who ate the chihuahua! There is even a book titled, “Pelicans, Chihuahuas and Other Urban Myths”. And that is just what it is… a myth.
    Lance Ferris
    Australian Seabird Rescue

  2. Trevor says:

    Hi there Lance. Welcome to my birding blog. I agree with your comments that feeding wild birds is a no-no. Unfortunately the general public thinks it is cute to see the gulls, Noisy Miners or whatever fighting over chips or other items of food, and the habit is perpetuated. It is probably too late to stop that human behaviour and the birds’ response.

    On the pelican “urban myth” I am a little more skeptical. I have not heard of the book you mention but at least one well respected birding identity has emailed me saying that the story of the dog is true. And that a vet she knew told her of the incident on the Gold Coast. I guess that is how urban myths start – all it needs is an ‘authority’ – in this case a vet – to say it is true.

    Whether fact or fiction, it sure makes a good yarn with a typically Aussie spin. Some overseas visitors must go home from Australia totally confused!

  3. Finn says:


    found your page by coincident when looking for other “pelican attacks” after an incident in a London park the other day, where a pelican ate a pigeon!

    Unfortunately, the website is in norwegian, but in short; the pelican seems fed up with the pigeon, and decides to eat it. Took it some 20 minutes to manage to swollow it.

    So I guess a pelican CAN eat a dog, but….

  4. Trevor says:

    Welcome to my blog, Finn. Thanks for the information about the Pelican. This story just adds more intrigue to the stories about pelicans. That pigeon must really been annoying – or it looked very tasty. It probably saved the pelican the trouble of going fishing.

  5. Lance Ferris says:

    The video of the pelican eating the pigeon, was taken in the grounds of a park in the UK. The bird is a European Pelican, and if you look closely, part of its left wing is missing. These birds were given to the Queen in the 1800’s by a king in Europe, as a gift. As for the vet with the ‘evidenc’ of the pelican swallowing a dog, only last week, one chap said he even had photos of the pelican swallowing the dog. Oddly enough, he couldn’t find them… hmmm. Fiction, my friend

  6. Trevor says:

    Thanks for this further contribution Lance. Despite your assurances I’m not going anywhere near a pelican with my daughter’s dog… just in case…

  7. Lance says:

    Hi again, Trev,
    Hahaha.. a lady phoned the other day, concerned about walking her chihuahua along a beach where there were three pelicans. Jokingly, I told her to tie a house brick around the neck of the dog, so the pelican’s wouldn’t eat it.
    Only problem was, that she said, “Thanks very much” … and hung up! I still have nightmares of a tiny dog dragging a brick up the beach.
    No way a pelican can swallow a dog. And the latest… only last week, a young man told me he SAW a SEAGULL swallow a chihuahua! What next? A dog-devouring sparrow?

  8. Carlos Arteaga says:

    I was attacked by a pelican while swimming in La Jolla Cove, CA almost 1/2 mile from the shore. The bird was vicious and only left when I managed to hit him in his beak. Someone said he could have been old and blind, but it was stressing.

  9. Alan says:

    Been around pelicans for years and most have not been aggressive. They will come towards you or attempt to fly in to your boat when you stop feeding them. Easily shooed away. A funny thing once happened a years ago at my Oceanside condo when a fully grown pelican landed in the pool. It nipped me and the hospital ER staff laughed like crazy when I told them what happened.

  10. Carla says:

    Hi Trevor! how are you?

    I am a young artist in Perth and I was wondering if i could have your permission to use your photograph as a reference photo for a painting? you would get full credit on my website & Facebook page 🙂

    Thanks 🙂


    • Trevor says:

      Hi there Carla,

      You have my permission to use the photo. I get many requests like this so I must be doing something right.

      Is this the only photo of a pelican that you have looked at? If you do a search for pelican (top right hand of each page) you can do a search of the whole site.

      If you put anything on your website, let me know the URL and I will link back to it.

      All the best.

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