Pelican Tattoo Meaning, Designs & Ideas

Pelican tattoos may symbolize Christian teachings about self-sacrifice and charity. They can also be associated with ancient Egypt, various countries, and Alcatraz Island.

In this article, we’ll look at the various meanings of pelican tattoos and what this bird represents.

All About Pelicans

The pelican is a large water bird that is recognizable by its long, yellow-orange beak and big throat pouch. It uses this pouch to catch fish, the main part of its diet. Some pelicans also eat insects, crustaceans, and smaller birds.

There are eight species of pelicans in the world. They can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Pelicans are good swimmers and they can also fly up to 10,000 feet in the air. If necessary, they will travel over one hundred kilometers a day in search of food.

Four kinds of pelicans have brown or gray feathers. These species build their nests in trees or on rocks. The other four types have white plumage and make their nests on the ground.

In the United States, the most well-known species is the American White Pelican. One of the largest birds in North America, it has a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet.

Pelican Tattoos

There are a variety of styles of pelican tattoos, including those done in color and in black and gray. These tattoos range in size as well. Some pelican tattoos show the birds in flight with their wings outstretched, while others show them standing up. 

Many pelican tattoos are realistic illustrations of birds, though some are cartoon-like. Most pelican tattoos feature a single bird.

Christian Symbolism

For some people, the pelican is a symbol of sacrifice. This stems from a legend that was told in Europe during the medieval period. 

The myth about the pelican said that the mother birds would pierce their own chest with their beak, drawing blood. When there was no food for their young, they did this to feed them with their blood. 

Similar legends tell that the mother pelicans were able to use their blood to revive their young after they died. In this way, the pelican has been associated with Christ and the Eucharist.


The pelican cutting its own chest to provide for–or revive–its young has become a symbol of self-sacrifice. A pelican tattoo may represent sacrifice, particularly for those who hold Christian beliefs or who are mothers themselves.

A tattoo of a pelican may signify an individual’s Christian faith and their belief that Christ was sacrificed for humanity. The tattoo can also symbolize a mother’s feelings about parenthood and the sacrifices involved in raising children.

Ancient Egypt

Images of pelicans have been found carved into tombs from ancient Egypt. In those days, people believed that these birds were connected to death and the afterlife. Specifically, pelicans were thought to provide safe passage through the underworld.

A person may choose to get a pelican tattoo to represent their interest in this ancient belief. They could even feel that the tattoo offers them some protection or that it will help them after they pass away.


The infamous Alcatraz prison was situated on an island just over a mile off the coast of San Francisco, California. The name Alcatraz can be traced to the Arabic word for pelican. The island was so named because of the great number of these birds that inhabited it.

The federal prison operated until 1963. It housed many criminals and gangsters, most famously Al Capone. It was said that Alcatraz was impossible to escape, though some prisoners did make attempts. The location has since been turned into a tourist attraction.

A person might have a pelican tattoo to represent either the prison itself or the island in general. They may have an interest in crime and punishment and want to display this with a tattoo.

Coat of Arms

There are several coats of arms that feature different types of birds, including the pelican. Two Corpus Christi Colleges–one in Cambridge and one in Oxford–have a pelican on their coat of arms.

Someone who studied at one of these schools may choose a pelican tattoo to represent their time there. Similarly, a professor or other staff at the college might opt for a tattoo of a pelican to remember the time they spent.

National Bird

The pelican is a popular choice when it comes to being named the national or state bird in some places. The great white pelican is the national bird of Romania. This country is home to the largest colony of pelicans in all of Europe–almost 20,000 birds.

Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Sint Maarten also have named the pelican as their national bird, though it is the brown pelican they refer to. 

People may choose to get a pelican tattoo to represent their connection to one of these countries. It may be that they were born there, have family there, or even distant ancestors. Or the tattoo may be simply because they like traveling to that country and enjoy visiting.


The brown pelican is also the state bird of Louisiana, which is known as the pelican state. Their flag features an image of a mother pelican with blood on her chest, feeding her three young in a nest below. 

Louisiana is also home to the New Orleans Pelicans, a professional basketball team. In addition to the pelican being featured on their logo, the team also has a pelican mascot. Pierre the Pelican had to be redesigned as its original version was too scary for some fans!

Someone who lives in Louisiana, especially if they are a fan of the NBA team, might get a pelican tattoo to show their love for the state.

American Solidarity Party

The pelican is the symbol of the American Solidarity Party, a political party in the United States. The party is based on Catholic teachings such as social justice and charity. The pelican is representative of the Christian notion of self-sacrifice.

A member of this political party may get a pelican tattoo to display their connection to the group and their agreement with their platform.

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