Definition of pelican in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈpeləkən/


Image of pelican
1A large gregarious waterbird with a long bill, an extensible throat pouch for scooping up fish, and mainly white or gray plumage.
  • Genus Pelecanus, family Pelecanidae: six species, including the white pelican (P. erythrorhynchos) of western and central North America, and the brown pelican (P. occidentalis) of northern and western South America and the southern US.
Example sentences
  • Most of the postcranial elements belong to continental waterbirds, including pelicans, anhingas, herons, storks, ducks, and rails.
  • Millions of birds - ducks, geese, pelicans, shore birds - use the sea each year.
  • Black swans, pelicans, white faced heron and mullet jumping out of the water were some of the attractions that were snapped by the budding photographers.
1.1A heraldic or artistic representation of a pelican, typically depicted pecking its own breast as a symbol of Christ.
From an ancient legend that the pelican fed its young on its own blood
Example sentences
  • This act of self-vulning, in which the female pelican pecks blood from her chest to feed her young, symbolizes Christ feeding the faithful.
  • Art nouveau pelicans uphold the piers of Blackfriars Bridge, and high overhead stands the great iron badge of the London, Chatham & Dover Railway.
  • The pelican is a symbol of self-sacrifice, and a Masonic symbol of resurrection!


Late Old English pellicane, via late Latin from Greek pelekan, probably based on pelekus 'ax' (with reference to its bill).

  • The pelican has always been noted for its long bill and deep throat-pouch for scooping up fish. This distinctive feature probably gave the bird its name, which came from Greek pelekan, probably based on pelekus ‘axe’. In Britain a pelican crossing is a road crossing with traffic lights operated by pedestrians. The name, first used in 1966, was taken from the initial letters of the formal title, pedestrian light controlled crossing. Two other pedestrian crossings were given bird names by analogy with the pelican, the puffin (from pedestrian user-friendly intelligent), and toucan crossing. As bird names, puffin has a rather complicated history. It was used in Middle English for the Manx shearwater, probably from ‘puff, puffed up’, describing the shearwater's fat nestlings. As the two birds often nest together the name was then transferred to the bird we now call a puffin. Toucans, who first appeared in English in the mid 16th century, get their name from the language of the Amazonian Indians called the Tupi, and their name imitates their cry.

Words that rhyme with pelican


For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: pel·i·can

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