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  • Writer's pictureColton Cowie

Why Do Pelicans Try to Eat Capybaras?

Pelicans and capybaras are two fascinating creatures that reside in vastly different parts of the animal kingdom. Pelicans, known for their distinctive pouch and expert fishing skills, are often admired by birdwatchers for their elegant flight and hunting prowess. On the other hand, capybaras, the world's largest rodent species, are beloved by wildlife enthusiasts for their docile nature and social behavior. But an intriguing and somewhat perplexing question has arisen among observers: why do pelicans try to eat capybaras?

In this blog post, we will delve into this unusual predator-prey dynamic, exploring the environmental and behavioral factors that may lead to such interactions. We will also present real-life observations and insights from wildlife researchers to shed light on this curious phenomenon.

Pelican sitting on ledge near water

The Predator-Prey Dynamic

Pelicans as Predators

Pelicans are primarily fish-eaters, relying on their large bill and expandable throat pouch to scoop up fish from the water. However, their opportunistic feeding habits mean that they occasionally prey on other animals, including amphibians, small birds, and even rodents. Pelicans are adaptable hunters, employing various strategies such as plunge-diving and cooperative hunting to catch their prey.

Capybaras as Prey

Capybaras are herbivores, predominantly grazing on grasses and aquatic plants. They are social animals, typically living in groups, which provides some protection against predators. While they are not typically hunted by birds, capybaras must remain vigilant against a range of predators, including jaguars, caimans, and anacondas. Given their size and relatively slow movement, capybaras could be seen as potential prey by larger birds, especially in environments where food is scarce.

Capybaras in grass

Environmental and Behavioral Factors

Habitats and Ecosystems

Pelicans and capybaras can be found in overlapping habitats, particularly in South American wetlands, rivers, and lakes. These ecosystems are rich in biodiversity, supporting a wide array of animal and plant life. In such environments, food availability can fluctuate, leading to competition between different species.

Factors Influencing Interaction

Several factors may influence the interaction between pelicans and capybaras:

  • Scarcity of Food: During periods of food scarcity, pelicans might expand their diet to include non-traditional prey, such as young or small capybaras.

  • Competition: The presence of other predators competing for the same food resources can drive pelicans to target unusual prey.

  • Opportunistic Behavior: Pelicans may seize the opportunity to catch capybaras if they appear vulnerable or isolated from their group.

Capybara laying down outside

Case Studies and Observations

Real-Life Examples

Numerous wildlife observers and researchers have documented instances of pelicans attempting to prey on capybaras. These observations often occur near water bodies where both species are likely to encounter each other. For example, in some wetlands, pelicans have been seen approaching groups of capybaras, possibly in search of smaller or weaker individuals.

Insights from Researchers

Wildlife researchers have provided valuable insights into these interactions. Some suggest that pelicans' opportunistic feeding behavior, combined with environmental pressures, can lead to such predatory attempts. Others point out that these incidents might be more common in areas where the natural prey of pelicans is depleted, forcing them to explore alternative food sources.

Pelican flying in the sky

The Role of Adaptation

Capybara Adaptations

Capybaras have developed several adaptations to coexist with predators, including pelicans. These adaptations include:

  • Group Living: Social structures help capybaras detect and deter potential predators.

  • Aquatic Abilities: Capybaras are excellent swimmers, often taking to the water to escape threats.

  • Vigilance: Constant alertness and group coordination enhance their chances of survival.

Significance of Adaptations

These adaptations play a crucial role in the survival of capybaras, enabling them to navigate environments teeming with potential threats. Understanding these survival strategies offers valuable insights into the dynamics of predator-prey relationships and the resilience of species in the face of ecological challenges.

Capybara swimming in creek

Why do Pelicans Try to Eat Capybaras?

Having covered the capybara's adaptations, we now turn our attention to pelicans. Why would these birds attempt to prey on an animal that is seemingly too large for them? The answer lies in their opportunistic feeding behavior and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Opportunistic Feeding

Pelicans are known for their opportunistic feeding habits - they will consume anything within reach if it meets their nutritional needs. This means that even animals much larger than themselves may become targets if other food sources are scarce or inaccessible.


In addition to their opportunistic nature, pelicans have also shown remarkable adaptability. In some areas where fish populations have decreased due to human activities like overfishing, pelicans have started targeting other prey items, including birds and small mammals. This flexibility in their diet allows them to survive in changing environments and maintain their position as top predators.


The question of why pelicans try to eat capybaras highlights the complex and sometimes unexpected interactions that occur within ecosystems. While pelicans are not typical predators of capybaras, environmental and behavioral factors can lead to these rare but fascinating encounters. By studying these interactions, wildlife enthusiasts, birdwatchers, and animal behavior researchers can gain a deeper understanding of the intricate web of life that sustains our natural world.

In summary, the predator-prey relationship between pelicans and capybaras underscores the importance of adaptive behaviors and the ecological balance that allows diverse species to coexist. As we continue to explore and document these interactions, we enrich our knowledge of wildlife and foster greater appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.

For those keen on observing such remarkable phenomena firsthand or contributing to wildlife research, understanding these dynamics is essential. Whether you're a seasoned birdwatcher or a curious wildlife enthusiast, the world of animal behavior offers endless opportunities for discovery and insight.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do pelicans and capybaras get along?

While they are not typically known to interact, pelicans and capybaras can coexist peacefully in their shared habitats. However, occasional predatory attempts by pelicans towards capybaras have been observed.

What predators do capybaras face?

Aside from pelicans, capybaras also face threats from jaguars, pumas, caimans, anacondas, and some larger birds of prey. Their ability to adapt and navigate these challenges is a testament to their survival strategies.

What do pelicans eat?

Pelicans are opportunistic feeders and primarily consume fish. They use their large beaks to scoop up water and small fish, but they have also been observed eating amphibians, crustaceans, and even birds.

Can capybaras defend themselves against pelican attacks?

Capybaras are social animals that usually live in groups for protection against predators. When faced with an attack from a predator like a pelican, they will vocalize loudly to alert other members of the group and may also bite or kick back in self-defense.

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