My favorite bird is the Great Blue Heron. An easy second is the Pelican. I thought that Ogden Nash Dixon wrote this limerick. He didn’t, Lanier Merritt, editor of The Tennessean, wrote it:
A wonderful bird is the pelican.
His bill can hold more than his belican.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.
I have tried to take pics of the Pelican. The last time I tried I got 17 pics of the sea and NO Pelicans. They look prehistoric. And, there is a reason. Pelicans appeared a hundred million years ago and “reached the peak of diversity” around 65 million years back. No kidding. The oldest intact pelican fossil is from thirty million years ago and reveals that our modern version is nearly identical to his ancestor, but smaller.
Pelican anatomy is practical. Bulky bodies, long necks, short legs, short, square tails, and long beaks look awkward but are accessorized with the stylish pelican throat bag; a stretchy pouch of naked skin hangs from the jaw and holds up to three gallons, two to three times more than its belly can. Such big birds’ flight would seem limited. The bird is clumsy taking flight, simultaneously running on water with pounding feet and flapping wings, but aerodynamics lighten his load: air pockets in the bones connected to respiratory airways that lie under skin of throat, breast, and wings to add buoyancy, and a “fibrous layer” in the breast keeps wings horizontally steady for graceful gliding with heads against shoulders, necks tucked in. He hops aboard thermal updrafts, soaring up to ten thousand plus feet—then flies low, skimming the water surface, wings compressing air to greater density, getting a “ground effect,” an upward draft beneath him, and conserves energy, a vital issue to pelicans who travel daily up to ninety-three miles in single file lines or sometimes in V formation to and from feeding grounds. Some of those anatomical features are also crucial to feeding.
Fortunately for me there are folks who have good cameras (and not Kodak Brownies like me) and know how to use them. See the gallery below:
[Click on any photo to see full size]