BELMONT — The Bronx Zoo is going to the birds.
Four Peruvian pelicans, one of the world's heaviest flying birds, were added to the zoo's Russell B. Aitken Sea Bird Colony, which also contains aquatic fowl like flamingos, penguins and storks.
The pelicans, which weigh more than 15 pounds and eat mostly fish, are usually found on South America's west coast, from central Peru to southern Chile.
Peruvian pelicans used to be thought of as a subspecies of the brown pelican but have more plentiful white markings on their head.
The pouches that hang from their beaks can hold over three gallons of water and air sacs underneath their skin help them float in the water.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature designates the Peruvian pelican as "near threatened," meaning it is "close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future." Threats to the species include climate change and habitat destruction.
BirdLife International, a nature conservation group, said that the current population of mature Peruvian pelicans could be more than 500,000 but refers to this as "a fraction of former numbers."
"Although the population of this species is now stable or perhaps even increasing, it is likely to still be recovering after dramatic declines in the El Nino year of 1998," reads BirdLife's fact sheet on the Peruvian pelican. "It could suffer similar declines in the future if conditions were repeated, for these reasons it is classified as near threatened."