ADVENTURES IN NATURE – part 2 (See the bottom of this post for more from this series)
Among the creatures that I have most enjoyed watching during my nature/photographic forays is the goofy, popular, ubiquitous (at least here in Florida) pelican – especially the Brown Pelican. They are fascinating birds that have been known to soar as high as 10,000 feet on thermals of air. Their pouches can hold an amazing three gallons of water. Some of the 8 species of pelicans found on every continent other than Antarctica have wings spans of up to 10 feet! Here is a portrait of one of these fascinating birds:
They frequently fly around in group formation close to the water as these two are doing:
But they also are often flying solo. The first photo is of a mature Brown Pelican in flight followed by a shot of a young bird:
Note the interesting difference in eye and plumage coloration between the mature and the young brown pelican.
They utilize a fascinating fishing technique of diving into the water at high speeds, crashing into the water upside down hence stunning the fish near the surface, and then scooping them up in their pouch. They then drain the up to 3 gallons of water in their pouch, and maneuver their prey so they are in position to swallow headfirst down the hatch. Here is a shot of one just prior to hitting the water:
This maneuver happens so quickly that I was never aware of the technique they used until I stopped the action with my camera. Just prior to hitting the water, they tuck in their heads, rotate to the left and then land upside down. Interestingly, the reason for that left turn is that the bird’s trachea and esophagus are both located on the right side and the left turn technique protects vital parts from being damaged on impact. There is one other physiological feature of the bird that helps protect it during its high speed fishing dives. They have air sacs throughout their bodies that not only help cushion them on impact, but also enhance their buoyancy in the water. Because of these numerous air sacs throughout the body, pelicans are much lighter than they appear.
Interestingly, other species such as the white pelican, use a group fishing technique in which they form a semi-circle and drive the fish towards the shore where their prey is then easily scooped up into their pouches. Here is a photo of a white pelican:
Pelicans have an interesting relationship with seagulls that often perch on their head or other parts of the pelican hoping to steal a free meal. After a fish catch by the pelican, the seagull literally sticks its head into the pelican’s pouch and grabs what they can. I recently watched a half-hour sequence on the Gulf of Mexico of a pelican and a seagull. The seagull rode around on top of the pelican and at one point when a tern tried to move in on the action, the seagull gave chase and then immediately returned to its perch atop the pelican. Fascinatingly, the pelicans don’t seem to mind their fee-loading visitors. Here are the two:
The 8 species of pelicans are also divided into two sub-groups – ground nesters, and those that nest in trees and rocks. Unlike other species of birds, pelicans protect their eggs by placing the webbing of their feet over the eggs as they sit on the nest. Here is a female pelican sitting on her nest:
The result is one of these cute fluff balls – this guy is 4 weeks old:
I came across this bird and his sibling one morning and watched them for a considerable amount of time. This shot was one of the rare moments when they did not seem to be glued together. Here are a couple of shots to illustrate:
I hope you enjoyed this brief pelican encounter and I will leave you with two more photos. In the first, I am making some serious, close-up eye contact with a young brown pelican and in the second, I was about to duck as this pelican came flying towards me on a recent morning on a local beach:
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