Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Pelican Math

Carolyn Nixon

Pelican Math

Using the pelican facts listed below, see if you can answer the following questions.  (Hint: The answers to earlier questions may help you answer the later questions).

An adult American White Pelican weighs about  20 lbs and consumes 3 lbs of small fish, salamanders, frogs, and aquatic insects each day.   It will live about 14 years.  While its bill can hold 5 gallons, the stomach will hold only 2 gallons.  A pelican can usually catch what it needs to eat in a day by 8:00 or 9:00 a.m.  A female pelican usually lays two eggs, but often the parents are able to raise only one young.  The chick stays in the nest for 25 days, during which it consumes about 150 lbs of food.  The parents continue to feed their offspring until it is able to fly at about 10 weeks old.  Parent birds often commute up to 50 miles between nesting grounds and feeding areas.


1. On average, how much does a pelican chick eat each day before it leaves the nest?


2. How many pounds of fish and other aquatic organisms must a pair of pelicans catch in one day when they have a chick in the nest?


3. If the pelicans are feeding on minnows that weigh 0.5 oz each, how many minnows must an adult Pelican eat in a day?


4. If a pelican chick will eat the same amount of food as an adult once it leaves the nest, how many pounds of fish must it eat from the time it hatches until it can fly?


5. How  many 0.5-oz minnows would an American White Pelican eat in a lifetime? 




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 Pelican Math Answers

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1. 6 lbs (150 ¸ 25, or 6 lbs)


2. 12 lbs (each adult eats 3 lbs, and the chick eats 6 lbs)


3. 96 minnows (3 lbs of fish x 16 oz per lb, or 48 oz; 48 ¸ .5 = 96)


4. 285 lbs (first 25 days it ate 150 1bs; 10 weeks = 70 days; 70 days - 25 days = 45 days; last 45 days it ate 3 lbs each day, or 45 x 3 = 135 lbs; 150 lbs + 135 lbs = 285 lbs)


5. 492,960 (14 years x 365 days per year = 5,110 days; 5,110 days - 25 = 5,085 days; first 25 days it ate 150 lbs; 150 lbs x 16 oz per lb = 2,400 oz; 2,400 oz ¸ .5 oz per minnow = 4,800 minnows; so it ate 4,800 minnows its first 25 days; it ate 96 minnows a day for the next 5,085 days, or 96 x 5,085 = 488,160 minnows;  4,800 minnows + 488,160 minnows = 492,960 minnows)


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