Water animals are the only prey these birds catch, and most of them eat only fish. A few of the birds also eat squid, shrimp and other crustaceans, jellyfish, carrion (mostly dead fish discarded by fishing boats), eggs and chicks of other seabirds, young turtles, and tadpoles.

Although all of the Pelecaniformes birds eat mostly fish, they have several different methods for catching them. Tropicbirds snatch flying fish from the air. Cormorants chase fish at high speeds underwater, propelled by their feet, until they can catch the birds in their beaks. Anhingas chase fish and use their bills as underwater spears to catch them. Gannets plunge into the water from as high as 100 feet (30 meters) to stun and kill their prey. Some pelicans work as teams to drive fish into shallow water where they can easily catch them. And frigatebirds steal fish from other birds.

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